Einstein’s theory of relativity is well known, but often misunderstood. And I think it’s the perfect framework to describe why having a creative partner is so valuable.
One way of looking at the famous equation is that, because the speed of light (c) is fixed within any frame of reference moving at a constant velocity, there is no fixed perspective that one can measure the physical laws with total accuracy.
So why should we expect to have the perfect perspective on a story idea all by ourselves?
Galileo – whose ideas Einstein revived with his theory – posited a thought experiment. A person is travelling below decks on a boat, and they drop a ball. They observe the ball dropping downwards of course, and they know intellectually that they are moving forward, but it cannot be observed. A fish, stationary in the water outside the boat, will not observe the ball dropping, but in that same time-frame, it could observe the ship moving laterally. Indeed, if the ship was transparent, the fish would be able to observe the ball travelling with velocity while being acted on by gravity.
So, E(nergy) = mass x speed of light squared. Let’s say energy refers to storytelling energy and Mass represents your ideas, or work. Put simply, no matter how much creative energy you produce, it will always be the case that you can’t viscerally feel with perfect accuracy where that energy will end up. With another observer – or a creative partner – you can course correct.
Let’s shift away from the metaphor – which, funnily enough, I know my writing partner Alex would hate. This mental model may sound obvious, but all I can say is I’ve grappled with the quandary of how authoritative to try and be with my ideas in the past. You’re the writer/narrative designer after all, you’re supposed to know best. And storytelling is so subjective – how do you know you know best, or which idea is going to resonate with audiences more?
This model and these questions feed into another saying I find myself reusing: ‘every writer deserves an editor.’ And by extension, every idea needs an editor, and every editor needs an editor. This model has helped me fully come to terms with expecting my ideas to be audited and edited, to be looked at through new (and preferably contrasting) perspectives, to be seen through different lenses.
In my experience of working across more than ten games, the best ideas always come when there’s a free flow and exchange of story ideas, early enough in a project for seismic shifts to be made.
Getting the story and writing for a game done requires lots of energy, and momentum. While I’m confident enough in my abilities and experience to know I’ll produce a decent story if left to my own devices, I’ve come to relish having a great writing partner to help me understand what I don’t know, and what has sneaked through my blind-spot. Only with another perspective can you truly understand the direction your story is going in.