The German-born theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, is best known for his theory of relativity and his Nobel Prize in Physics. His keen observations apply to writing as well as science. His concise quotes are invaluable and timeless.
Here are five of my favorites. I’ve commented on them as they apply to the creative process and writing compelling stories.
1. “A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.” What specifically are you trying to achieve in telling your story? What do you want your audience to feel? Who exactly is your audience? How well do you know them? Is your character’s emotional struggle well defined? How well does it reflect your audience’s struggle? Perfection of everything else (setting, acting, production values, etc.) is meaningless if you don’t know where your characters are headed.
2. “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” This is an ideology of humility and authenticity. You are here to serve the audience. Your story must add some kind of value to their day. What value are you adding to your audience? What is it that the audience needs and how are you filling that need. Too often we believe we are creating television shows or feature films for our own artistic fulfillment and satisfaction. In reality, we create to fulfill and satisfy our audiences. It is only when we are of real value to others that we find true success as artists.
3. “Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” The buzz word these days is “edgy.” Often what is termed “edgy” is simply vulgar, inappropriate, crude, gross, aggressive or destructive. None of these things is truly edgy. It is quite common to encounter the gross, the vulgar or the destructive. In fact, what is riskiest, the most dangerous and what really pushes the envelope is– to simply tell the truth. Tell the truth about who you are and tell the truth about who your characters are. Nothing takes more courage. Nothing is as a daunting. Nothing is as surprising or as shocking. Nothing is more rare.
4. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Plots should be very simple. They should be clear and uncomplicated. You should be able to communicate the plot of your story in a few quick sentences. Fable, parables or fairytales stand the test of time because their plots are simple and easy to remember. The most memorable stories are very simple ones– but ones filled with deep, rich, complex emotions.
5. “Most people say that it is intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” The same applies to writers and storytellers of all kinds. You cannot write authentic characters if you are not authentic yourself. You cannot write vulnerable characters unless you make yourself vulnerable first. You cannot write from the heart unless you are generous and open up your own heart. The character of the writer to a large extent determines the quality of the writing.