For those unfamiliar with geometry as it relates to aesthetics and nature, the golden ratio is a unique ratio common in nature that has been used to create more appealing art. The application of this ratio is most often shared when discussing musical harmonics and visual proportions. That said, we’ll try now to apply this particular geometric impression to the art of stories.
One of the more simple demonstrations of the golden ratio is in the golden rectangle. When a line is drawn to create a perfect square within the rectangle, the resulting left over shape has the same proportions as the original shape. Thus, another square can be created within this second rectangle, producing another rectangle, then another square, and this can be repeated to infinity in both directions – expanding the shape or diminishing the shape. The proportion stays the same.
For some video demonstration, here’s a classic. Donald Duck: Mathmagic Land. The part about the golden ratio begins around 7:10 and ends around 13:30. It’s all good, so feel free to watch all of it. We’re just discussing the ratio.
This isn’t the only shape this proportion takes. The video also describes it in terms of a regular pentagram, pentagon, and spirals. We use the rectangle here for its simplicity and ease of translation to a non-visual medium.
Using a geometric proportion to craft a story may sound ridiculous to some. However, numbers are already present in every major story structure. The rule of three is common in classical performance, and this is commonly taught in early writing lessons: “A story has a beginning, middle, and an ending.”
That same rule of three expands when writing larger works, where each of the three acts (beginning, middle, and end) have internal sections. If this story has more to it, often the story follows the highly-popular trilogy form. Looking at the Star Wars franchise, this has cycled out still wider: three trilogies. Three-as-one isn’t the only number commonly taught. Other story structures play with a variety of culturally significant numbers: 4, 5, 7, 12 are a few. Even the popular “Snowflake Method” relies on geometric principles – fractal growth – to plan out a story.
While it’s not easy to “add up” words or calculate the relationships between characters, plot points, or settings, exposure to this ratio can help an author develop a helpful sense of its aesthetic proportion. Over the next few posts, we’ll be illustrating ways this ratio can guide you in crafting an appealing story.
Other Posts on the Golden Ratio: