What Physics Games Taught Me

Thea Devine here, a rabid Mahjong Titans fan.  I play it endlessly, I’m fascinated by it, I love it.  But what I never expected was that I would go crazy nuts over physics games.  You know — the cut, slice, dice, collide and explode things kind of games.  Oh my goodness — your basic hopeless-at-math, barely-passed-algebra, don’t even talk to me about geometry, calculus. trigonometry or physics student madly in love with and intensively absorbed by physics games.

And I’m constantly searching out new ones (don’t tell my husband — who did take calculus and trig) and I spend far too much time playing games, which require analyzing angles, balance, sweet spots, swing, timing and torque, among other things, in order to collide, cut, destroy or dynamite the objective.

But here’s the thing:  the angles, timing, swing, and speed don’t always work the way you think they will.  Sometimes, when you slice one way, your object collapses the opposite way.  Or your maneuver to get two pieces to collide when one is descending faster than the other which is perched on a ledge with no discernible way to reach the oncoming object leaves you dizzy and totally perplexed.  How many times do you try it the way you think it should work before you realize you have to recalculate and devise a different  theory?

Sometimes, I discovered, you have to think back to front, down instead of up, sideways instead of straight ahead.

Sometimes, I thought in a lightbulb moment, that’s how you have to approach a plot that’s not working. Slice and dice.  Go under instead of over.  Cut the ground out from under a character and see what happens.  Think front to back, especially if you’re plotting a mystery.   The bad guy has to account for everything in order not to be suspected.  The guy who says he took off on a camping trip with his kids the snowy stormy night his wife was murdered sounds awfully suspicious.  There has to be a better alibi than that.  Start with the murder.  Who what when where why how.  Especially what and how.  Back to front:  how did he do it, how did he cover his tracks, what’s his alibi, how does he make it foolproof, where does he slip up (subtly)?

Or reverse things.  Make a male character into a woman (or vice versa).  That solved a problem for me when I had in my head the picture of this guy on a subway whom I noticed when my husband and I were on our way into Manhattan one evening (we lived in Brooklyn then — that’s how long he occupied my head).

He’d knelt in front of this couple, and the expression on his face was just gorgeous:  all lit up, all intense and focused on the couple. . For years I wanted to make him into a  a hero — but I couldn’t fit him and that moment into any scenario I was working on.  Then one day I thought — he doesn’t have to be a guy. And if I changed him and his glowing intensity into a woman, it would give me the heroine for a contemporary project I’d been thinking about.

Outside the box.  Sometimes you have switch off that linear thought process.  When I was in the midst of thinking about the plot for The Darkest Heart, I still couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a romantic vampire hero.  I was thinking blood, gore, dank, dark, dirt, yuck — romantic?  Really?  I mean I knew the reasons vampires are alluring:   they’re mysterious, they’re immortal;  you’re flirting with reckless endangerment (death is but a kiss away).  they’re protective … but none of that sparked any romance in me.  So I asked my husband.  And he said, in his logical look-at-every-angle way, “they’re victims.  They had no choice.”

I mean, I never even thought of that.  I wasn’t as deeply into physics games then (if that’s an excuse), so naturally I didn’t think of a different angle.  But instantly that one outside my box perception opened everything up for me.  My hero was now vulnerable.  He’s wrestling with what he was, what he’s become, what he can’t change, and where this irrevocable transformation must lead, even as he’s bent on a warpath of revenge.  And then the heroine pops up to derail all those plans …

And there was the plot.  All because of one different perspective on vampires.

Oh, do I love my husband!

Do you play physics games?  What about your plots and plans?  Have you ever sliced, diced, exploded or reversed a plot?  Did it work?  How much do you love your husband?


5 thoughts on “What Physics Games Taught Me”

  1. My goodness Thea, all that sound like deep stuff. No wonder you have a good mind, you challenge it with daring. I don’t play games, maybe I am missing a part of life? I only have one plot in the one manuscript I am desperately trying to get done. It is pretty much set out for me. I am writing an historic romance based on truth. I do love my husband, madly. He’s another one with a good mind, being a scientist with one of those PhD’s. thanks for the most interesting, informative post.

  2. Brilliant, Thea! Thanks for this post. The timing couldn’t have been better. Yes, I’ve just started playing a physics game on my i-pad, but what you said about thinking backwards or out of the box applies to my WIP in a big way. It’s the first in a trilogy (which I’ve never written), and it’s Dystopian (which I’ve also never written). I’ve had some trouble getting INTO the story. There is so much world building to do and way too much telling because I’m setting the stage. Perhaps I need to work backwards so that I have a better sense of when the reader needs to know certain pieces of info. Hmmm…thinking, thinking, thinking…THANKS!

  3. Another wonderful post, Thea! I actually did quite well in math and physics, though I’ve forgotten basically everything except addition, subtraction, pluttification and gazintas 🙂 I will have to check out that Mah Jong game … as a reward for finishing up a WIP! And yes, I love my husband lots too.

    1. I don’t know what I’d do without John in my life, honestly. Here’s another great thing he said to me once: there’s always another idea. Think about it. It’s a good thing to remember when you think things are going nowhere.


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