String Theory

String Theory? I bet you didn’t know I was actually a budding physicist in disguise? Right. I only wish I understood the ins and outs of String Theory. It makes as much sense to me as the rationale behind ice-hole swimming. Brrr. The thought of it boggles my mind. This post is about something a little different from String Theory in its traditional form. But it does involve string, and it is a theory—kind of.




Interested in playing? Here’s a detailed list of instructions on how to set up the game. I warn you, it’s complicated:

  1. Cut a length of string (or yarn).
  2. Tie the ends together to form a loop.
  3. Weave the loop around your fingers.
  4. Start playing.

See? You might need to read those steps a couple of times until you get the hang of it. Or visit You Tube to see the experts in action.

Now that you’ve set up your game (i.e., your plot), here are some things to consider as you play:

  1. The string remains the same piece of string, no matter how many loops we cross. How does this relate to writing? Our basic story is still there, beneath whatever twists and turns we throw at our characters.
  2. Dropping one thread can make a drastic change. Compare cat’s cradle to Jacob’s ladder. We can get two very different results from the same simple piece of string. Changing one aspect of our plot can make a big difference.
  3. The more complicated we make the pattern, the more care we should take when proceeding to the next step. This applies to plot points as well. When there are lots of crossed threads to deal with, we have to think carefully about our next move. One misstep and everything comes unraveled. But it’s not the end of the world. We still have our thread (the basic story). Just start manipulating those strings all over again.
  4. After so many twists and turns, the pattern begins to repeat itself. In certain versions of the string game, the pattern eventually loops back to the beginning. Know when to wrap up the story. When you first start playing (or writing), it may look like there are an infinite number of combinations, but that can be deceptive. Be careful not to let your plot turn into one big circle, where nothing new happens.
  5. Get a little help from your friends. Yes, we can play the string game on our own (as evidenced by the number of You Tube videos out there). But I always had more fun playing with a friend…or two or three. We Rubies are constantly tossing around plot ideas and asking for help. If you get stuck, find some writing buddies to help you think through the process.
  6. The most important step of all: Have Fun. Play. Write. Have fun with your characters and those twists and turns, because who wants to do something that feels like drudgery? Not me. So go forth and conquer those plots, but have fun while doing it!

So that’s my theory in a nutshell. How about you? Any analogies you’d like to share? Do you like your plots simple or impossibly complicated?

34 responses to “String Theory”

  1. Great analogy, Tina! Having read about string theory (the physicist’s version), I’m with you; I can’t say I understand it, but I find the concept fascinating.

    I like a complicated plot, but my anaology tends to be of the shell game. Find the ball, win the prize. But the hands are moving, the patter is quick and distracting, and before you know it, you’ve lost sight of the ball (or the reader has, if the writer is doing her job). You come THE END, and reveal that elusive ball to a chorus of sighs (Aw, great ending) and groans (over already?) At least, that’s how it always ends in MY little fantasy. *G*

    • Ooh, I love the idea of the shell game Gwynlyn! Definitely keep those readers guessing until the very end.

      And, yep, I do find the actual string theory fascinating. I’ve tried to sit down and read about it several times, but at a certain point my mind stops cooperating. I guess I’ll have to leave that particular theory to the likes of Stephen Hawking (and, of course, Sheldon Cooper). 🙂

    • June Love says:

      Gwynlyn, great analogy. As a writer, I’ve lost the ball a few times. Thankfully, I have some good friends who can find it for me.

  2. Diana Layne says:

    Analogies this early in the morning? Um, no. But this one was great–very creative!

    • I know what you mean, Diana. I’m just now dragging myself out of bed (hubby was kind enough to get the boy off to school and let me sleep). It takes a while (and several cups of coffee) for my brain to engage. I’m only on my first cup so…

      But thanks for reading!

  3. June Love says:

    Tina, the closest thing I’ve come to the String Theory is watching Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. Your idea of the string theory is more along my lines. It’s a great analogy. I used to love make the cup and saucer, Jacob’s Ladder…now, I want to find some yarn and see if I can remember how.
    I’ve never thought of writing in that way. My great-grandmother and my grandmother never used a recipe when cooking. I learned to cook at an early age by watching them. It’s some of my favorite childhood memories. So, I plot in a similar fashion. I have the main ingredient/idea, and then I add to it until I’ve fleshed out the entire story. Sometimes, it boils, sometimes it simmers, but when it’s ready to come off the stove, it’s delicious!

    • June, I’m with you on Sheldon. I still giggle about the episode with “tiny Spock” in it.

      And I LOVE your cooking analogy. So true. Sometimes that plot just needs to simmer a while. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can start putting meals together without a recipe (but probably because they’re dishes I’ve made for so long that I have them memorized). Thanks for this!

    • That’s how I cook, too, June! If I use a recipe at all, it’s for guidance, not directions. Mommy Surprise has graced our table on many occasions–especially when it came time to use leftoovers! 🙂

  4. Tia Ramirez says:

    This was great. A really cool way to look at plots. Personally I like a simple plot, but with complicated obstacles. I feel that it’s more relatable. This made me want to crack out the key board and get to typing 🙂

  5. Great post, Tina. It’s an interesting comparison. I like a great twist in a plot, but too many LOOPS can frustrate a reader, making the book more of a chore to read than entertainment. I think there’s a balancing act needed in making a plot interesting but not so convoluted the reader tires of trying to stay on track.

    • Laurie, I can relate to certain books being a chore. If I lose track of a thread, only to have it pop up later in the book, I get irritated–sometimes enough to put that book down. It’s definitely a balancing act.

  6. Rita Henuber says:

    Thanks. This is so much fun and I get a lot out of analogies. This is certainly one to remember. Agree with Laurie. Not too many loops please. Besides the more loops the more chance of dropping one.

    • I think I must learn via analogies, Rita. Must be the comparison element that makes it clearer for me. There’s something about them that just draws me.

      And you’re absolutely right…get too many loops in there and one can get dropped. When you get to the Jacob’s ladder point (with all those crossed threads) it starts to get too complicated for me. I know with my suspense manuscripts, I always struggle with that balance. You want to make things interesting–and keep the reader guessing–while not making the plot so convoluted it frustrates them.


  7. Help! I think my string’s all tied up in knots. (LOL) I’ve been unraveling my story’s string theory these past few weeks, and am finally making some headway in the edits.

    I tend to view my process as rolling out dough. It’s a big glob at first, but each pass (or roll of the rolling pin) smooths it out a little more. Plus, that analogy works for me because it seems the first few chapters (or that first part that gets rolled out) is always the smoothest at first (since it’s been edited so many times). After several passes, though, it all becomes equal. At least, I hope so! 😉

    • Whew, Anne Marie, so glad I’m not the only one whose string just won’t cooperate! 😉

      I love the dough analogy (especially since I often bake crescent rolls and ham and cheese rollups). That’s a great way to look at writing. And, just like you, I need several passes before my manuscript hits the point where it’s smooth and elastic.

  8. What a fun post, Tina!!!! I love your analogy and it’s spot on. I am all for layers. While the threads are basically simple, once I layer them all on top of each other and then work through the hows and whens of revelation, it makes it SEEM complicated. But really it’s not. It’s the same strings weaved together in fun and interesting twists. Or at least that’s my goal. LOL

  9. Kathy Altman says:

    Ooh, I like this way of looking at story, Tina! Very clever. I especially like the point about your basic story remaining the same–I usually write a blurb before I start writing pages, and when I get sidetracked, the blurb helps me find my way back to the heart of the story. Playing with strings can be dangerous, though, if there’s a cat in the room. 😉

    • I do this too, Kathy. I write up a blurb to help me keep the main thing…the main thing.

      And yes to the strings+cat=danger! But that’s what makes it so much fun, right? That hint of danger.

      Oh, and I have to plug your new book–since I was just admiring the cover over on Facebook. Very, very nice, Kathy!

  10. Addison Fox says:


    What a great post. While my only knowledge of String Theory comes from Sheldon’s rants on THE BIG BANG THEORY, the idea you’ve laid out is a great one!

    And I LOVE the last point on the list – have fun!!!! Writing is the greatest job in the world, after all. 🙂


  11. Hope Ramsay says:

    Great analogy. And I have always loved playing Cat’s Cradle. I discovered as a Girls Scout leader years ago, that a pocket full of string could keep 15 girls entertained for more than an hour. I never when anywhere with my troop without string in my pocket.

    I write very complicated plots. And I think of them in terms of juggling. You start with one ball and then you gradually add more as the plot thickens. And you have to keep them all in the air until the last part of the story where you have to carefully bring each one of them down to tie up all the plot endings.

    • Cat’s Cradle was all the rage when I was growing up. I could play for hours with a friend. When I wrote this blog post I looped some string and got my 18 year-old daughter to play with me. Brought back so many wonderful memories!

      Your analogy is a great one for complicated plots. By picturing yourself bringing each ball back down, you make sure there’s nothing left in the air at the end. Love it!

  12. Tapestry. A story is a tapestry of carefully woven colorful threads. Miss a thread, and it shows. When they are all in place, the picture is complete.

    Which reminds me, thanks to Tammy, I started reading Michio Kaku (who, if I understand correctly, is the man who “owns” string theory), and I can tell you, he has a knack for knocking this stuff down to terms laypeople can grasp. Just and FYI. 😉

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I gave a secondary character in my Underbelly Chronicles series, Council president Elliott Sebastiani, Michio Kaku’s glorious gray hair. 😉

    • Thanks for this, Gwyn. I’ll have to hunt him down. Laypeople terms is what I need! I’ve always been really fascinated by black holes and the like (and I love math), so I keep reading and reading…hoping one day something will just click.

      • Oh, and yes to the tapestry idea!! Love this!

        • I used the tapestry analogy on my website in regard to changing events in the past. (The In the Beginning lead-up on the excerpts page.) It’s pretty much a constant for me.

          As for the math, I’m so mathematically challenged it’s really rather embarrassing. Arithmatic is okay. Advanced math in any form is a meltdown waiting to happen. Thus, when I say these books bring the ideas to a layperson’s level, I mean a mental-deficient like me. 😛 Should be a piece of dark chocolate cake for you.

  13. AJ Larrieu says:

    This is a great analogy! I sometimes think I can relate *everything* back to writing. It’s an obsession. My favorite analogy for a story is the simple chemical reaction. (And here comes my not-so-inner science geek.) You’ve got the reactants (the characters at the beginning of the story) and the products (the characters at the end.) These two sets have to be fundamentally different, or a reaction (an interesting story) hasn’t occurred. But they also have to be a fundamentally better, in a more stable place. What’s true of chemicals is also true of characters: going through hell makes them stronger.


Subscribe to the Blog

The Latest Comments

  • Darynda Jones: I love this! I learned this fairly early as well. I also learned that sometimes I just have too many...
  • Heather McCollum: Thanks, Jenn! I forgot that you are also a free lance editor! Do you do both developmental and line...
  • Jennifer Bray-Weber: Very sound advice, Heather. I have done the same technique and often recommended it to some of...
  • Darynda Jones: Bwahahaha! I was so wondering where that was going! Did NOT see that coming. Great job, Evelyn!
  • April Mitchell: Congratulations Bonnie!