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Writing Fractal History

This is a fractal.

A fractal is a mathematical object that is not dimension 1, 2 or 3, but lies somewhere in between those numbers. One of the most common examples is something called the Koch Curve, which could also be made as a tringle. However, in this case lets start with a line. Go ahead. Draw a line about 2 inches long. I’ll wait.

Now mark one third lengths on that line. On the center third draw another triangle where the original line is its base at one third the size. Like this:

On each of the new lines you have, divide them in thirds again. A ruler isn’t needed yet. On each of those go ahead and drawn another triangle one third the size.

Repeat that again… and again… Maybe even rotate it and connect them end to end like paper snowflakes...This is what 6 iterations look like:

Or a flake!

Now you have a beginning of the idea of a fractal.

Why are we talking about it on a writing channel? It's not just because math can be beautiful.

Because the core idea of many fractals is self-repeating system on a smaller scale. That is where I want to shine a light. A lot of people when they write, chose to write a story about massive events. The focus is on the first few turns of that fractal. But the trauma, the impact of things carries down. I started thinking about this when I recent read a book I will review soon, called The Hidden History of Maynard. One of my takeaways from this book had absolutely nothing at all to do with the intended focus of the author.

It was a nonfiction piece about the history of a town not far from where I live. In the history of one town, I saw microcosms of the history of America. How did they handle voting over one hundred and fifty years? How did they handle border disputes with local towns? What happened during prohibition? What happened when famous people arrived? Which industries came and went, and how did they drive the region and how were they driven by external factors?

It was a fractal, because history is very fractal. If you broke the view down even more would individual blocks of houses in a street have their own view that replicated the bigger picture? Would an individual family have those same breaks? We know there are books about brothers fighting on opposite sides in the American Civil War.

We do not need to always concern ourself with the big thing, histories of queens and kings, or the events that shape a world, real or imaginary. The same stress and the same cycles of tension exist at every scale. Consider writing your next book in the scale of a family, or the scale of a neighborhood or a township. Humanity is the driving force of all fiction.

Explore the smallest fractal.

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Anna Varlese
Anna Varlese
Apr 15, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

This is an interesting application of fractals to writing. I find that when I write anything from emails to reports i approach it iteratively like your fractal, sketching out the broad strokes then going back through several times to add more detail for clarity and completeness as I edit, often tripling or more the volume from the original key points.

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