The Latent Heat of Writing*

Someone** once said that writing is a wilful act of creation. The creation of a novel is a very deliberate attempt at invention and one that, ultimately, changes the writer themselves, one way or another. In a favourite book of mine, The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, one of the characters is a sculptress who believes that she simply releases the shapes from the rock she carves. The creatures are already there, waiting to be freed. So it is with writing: there are almost an infinite number of ways to put words together in meaningful sentences particularly if you invent a few words on the way or, as James Joyce did, not worry too much about the meaning of the sentences in the first place. The writer releases the meaning through the combinations of the words, meanings that were always waiting to see the light of day.

As a novel, or any piece of writing for that matter, begins to take shape, a change takes place. The words that (hopefully) flow through the writer’s fingers onto the page take with them quanta of energy from that person, absorbing something of that writer into their fabric. Try writing 5000 words in a day (not you, James Joyce, the words have to be in proper sentences this time) and you’ll feel quite drained at the end of it. Actually, sometimes 500 words can be a struggle, what with procrastination and daystreaming.

Now, we live in a universe where energy appears to be conserved (I say appears because generally in what is called a closed system, it is, but there are some pesky quantum particles that simply do not play by the rules and ruin the fun for everyone else – or possibly generate all the fun while the dull ‘ordinary’ particles are conforming) and this means that, somewhere down the line, this latent heat will be released. My theory is that this happens when the writing is finally read.

A writer pours all this energy into their paragraphs and pages; the gentle reader picks up the book and, as they turn those pages and absorb the prose, the energy is released into them. They become energised in some way. And here’s the thing: the type of story, the genre of the novel determines the amount of energy available to the reader. A soft, relaxing romance type story will carry the reader away on a smooth carpet of dreams and unrequited love with the occasional few paragraphs of pulse-quickening sentences. This is a slow release of energy.

A rip-roaring adventure novel drags the reader’s heart rate into the stratosphere and keeps it there until the last page – all that energy is pumped into the reader on the way.

So, in theory, this could be described by an equation, akin to the specific latent heat of a substance. It’s very simple: the amount of energy released equals the number of words multiplied by a coefficient determined by the type of story it is. The question is – what are those coefficients? Only experimental results will give the answers. To measure energy, often a method of calorimetry is used, where you burn the substance and measure the heat given off. This might be a little problematic with writing – I wouldn’t want to incinerate anyone, least of all a potential buyer of my novels!

So, I just have to devise a rigorous scientific experiment. Something to ponder…

This Latent Heat of Writing could then help you choose what to read – a fast-paced thriller in the morning to power you into the day; a light comedy piece to help you digest dinner; a turgid Government report on Tax to put you to sleep – actually this sucks energy out of the reader*** into the pages. It’s why those sorts of reports burn so well.

So, before I have a nap or at least a cup of tea, I’ll lace my novel with some more energy, turning it from an ‘afternoon tea and cake’ kind of affair into a ‘two pages at breakfast and I’m good for the whole day’ type of story. Probably…


* Where’s the ordinal number this time? Look carefully…there it is…see?

** No idea who. It may have been me, after a nice single malt, but I doubt it.

*** In geek speak, it’s endothermic. In plain English, it’s boring (when applied to Tax reports) or ‘brr that’s cold’ when applied to other things.

Categories: BATDIG, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “The Latent Heat of Writing*

  1. This is an AWESOME idea. My dad is a professional standup comedian, and he said that when he’s on stage, it’s exactly like the Bob Seger song, Turn the Page: “every ounce of energy, you try to give away.” He pours his energy out into the audience and after doing an hour (or less), he’s physically and mentally exhausted.

    I hadn’t ever thought about the fact that writers do the same thing; we pour our souls out onto the page and spend all of our energy on crafting the characters and setting and plot–down to each individual sentence. Then someone else reads it and takes in some of that energy and emotion.

    Awesome, awesome, idea!


  2. The answer is to get them to read in the bath (with the water and surrounding air starting at body temperature), then measure the change in temperature of the water… tax return = cold water; bodice-ripper/tale of derring-do = boiling water.
    NB I am not volunteering to do this however many cups of tea you make me… they would just upset the experiment.


  3. Pingback: Energy Transference via Writing « Keri Peardon, Once and Future Author

  4. Pingback: The Literary Higgs Boson (LHB) « writinghouse

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