Science vs Art in Writing: Antagonistic or Symbiotic?

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently, I strayed from my usual posts on tips, tricks and techniques on how to write and let loose with a burst of creative writing. It was an unfiltered stream of consciousness piece that captured a pure moment of joy, a snapshot in time, an unedited response to life. I was surprised at how many people liked it, which got me thinking – was I spending too much time reflecting on the science of writing and not enough on the  art  of writing? And that got me thinking about how the science and art of writing, of literature, and of creativity generally, are related…

All artforms are a delicious meld of art and science.

Art vs Science
Art vs Science
(image courtesy of Zach Baranowski, via Flickr Creative Commons)

Music is heavily grounded in science, with its mathematical progression of notes and chords, its meticulous tuning of tensions to precise values, and its consistently-timed beats in meter signatures written as mathematical fractions. Our understanding of music is grounded in the fundamental science that tells us hitting a certain shaped object, of a certain density and material, at a certain velocity, will result in a sound of particular pitch, volume and timbre. Our ability to perceive music is also grounded in the science of physics and biology. And yet, in spite of all this science, there is that something else. The soul of the music. The part that can’t be captured by mathematical equations or scientific models. That intuitive understanding that a formulaic approach to creation will, in the end, leave the music devoid of creativity.

Literature is no different. Its science manifests in the hard and soft rules that abound in writing advice published in books, articles, websites and blogs (like this one). Hard rules – grammar, spelling, punctuation – speak more to the fundamentals of legible, written communication. Soft rules – develop your antagonist, don’t forget the inciting incident and plot points, ensure every scene has tension or conflict – speak more to the best practice of creative writing. And whilst it is good to remember the science of writing (especially for a debut indie author such as myself), it is important to not overlook the art of writing – the joy, the creativity, the unedited, unfiltered emotional response that writing (and reading) sucks from us.

So, in an effort to live this beautiful dichotomy of art and science, I am going to occasionally intersperse my observations on writing compelling fiction with random outbursts of emotion at the art of writing.

I hope you join the conversations on both – because good art and important science are always enhanced by considered and interesting discussion.

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Science vs Art in Writing: Antagonistic or Symbiotic?