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  • Writer's pictureChristopher K. Horne

Even Engineers Can Write a Novel (Engineers Can Write Too)

My STEM students think most of the problems they encounter can be solved with mathematics. I’ve convinced them through short essays in engineering courses that writing is a skill more important than mathematics. If you can’t explain your technical analysis in words, the math is just a tool. This got me thinking about writing a novel as a practicing engineer.

Typically there are two types of practitioners: artists and engineers. An artist is someone that expresses herself through novel techniques that produces cunning and crafty illustrations or alterations of poetry, short stories or a painted canvas.

An engineer, on the other hand, is one who uses only the tools necessary to remedy some technical problem. He gets right to the issue with the problem and tries to fix it. He may use mathematics to formulate some equation to understand relationships between physical entities, for example, the forces between bridge movement and high winds. He may use fancy computer programs to generate numbers for electrical systems and cell phones. He may even send out a few emails to discuss his design. But does he take the time to craft a story to describe his design so the reader is captivated?

When it comes to planning a story, I find that it's useful to first determine a starting and ending point. If it's a character-based story, what is the character like at the beginning? Where do you want the character to be at the end? What are the peculiar features of the character? I try to use my imagination to come up with a story about a person. I also find visiting unique places and meeting interesting people to inspire my stories.

From there, if you have a basic setting in place, you can start thinking about a catalyst for that character growth (normally some kind of personal disaster or traumatic event). Piling problems upon a character is one way to keep the story moving. Don’t forget about the scene.

A good scene should have a goal but also a consequence for an earlier event. For example, an extramarital relationship creates the death of a spouse. And moving the story forward keeps the reader interested.

My advice - write lots. Doesn't matter what. Could be an online blog response, or speeches, or a journal. But keep writing, since that's how you improve and the process gets more natural. If you've never really written before writing daily is important. As Susan Sontag said, “Love words, agonize over sentences.”

I’ve managed to pass English 101 in college over twenty years ago, to forming precisely crafted sentences to allure my reader. My bungled sentences in college are now pruned and enhanced in journal-writing and participating in writing groups. This allows me a wonderful way to explore a character, and by the way, learning about other novelist’s work.

Speaking of novelists, don’t forget to read. Writing is a skill, and while writing is an important step in developing that talent, it's not enough. just on its own. Read a couple of well-written books. I'd recommend Stephen King's On Writing and another favorite novel by Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume.

I hope these tips create questions and comments. I would love to hear from you.

Engineers, and anyone else, can write a novel, too.

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