There’s a concept in topology called homeomorphism. Two items are said to be homeomorphic if you can continuously deform one into the other without tearing or puncturing or gluing bits together. The classic example is a donut and a coffee cup. If you had a clay donut, you could squish it until it formed a coffee cup — they are both solid objects with a single hole.


For whatever reason, my brain is wired to grasp homeomorphism in concepts almost automatically, whether I want it to or not (I suspect nearly everybody’s brain is). This can be incredibly useful. For the day job, that means I can generally spot, for example, how a mathematical construct I’m already familiar with can be deformed for use in a different application, and that’s really handy. As a writer, it also has its uses. Metaphor, after all, could be considered a class of homeomorphism in literature (does that mean metaphor is homeomorphic to homeomorphism?), so being able to spot and deform one concept into another is definitely a necessary skill. Better yet, if I can write a donut in such a way as to suggest to the reader  that they can transform it into a coffee cup, then I’m really cooking with gas.


The problem comes in when dealing with issues of structure and plot. Long about the 50,000-word mark of anything I’m working on, the parallels between the work-in-progress and any number of other works start to become glaringly obvious. In many cases, this can suggest new avenues to explore or it can be used to shore up existing resonances. But in a lot of cases it’s simply crippling. Oh my god this has been written unto death already. Why bother?


The answer is that, homeomorphic or not, you can’t drink out of a donut.


But it sure is hard to keep that in mind sometimes.

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Published on July 29, 2012 09:22 • 29 views

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