Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Meiosis and Writing

meiosis diagram
Meiosis Diagram
courtesy of
As an A-Level Biology student, I strive to understand the world around me. From learning how water gets from the ground to the leaves of a giant Oak Tree to how insects survive without blood, I am fascinated by nature.

One day, whilst learning about how meiosis causes variation I had a brainwave. What if I could cross my love of writing with my knowledge of meiosis? At first, I struggled to think of the connections, but I think I’ve managed to work it out.

I will be using three key ways that meiosis causes variation to think about how we, as writers, can vary our writing. This article will form the final part in my three-part series on being unique in writing.

Please note that I have simplified the biology in this article and missed processes out to make it more approachable for those without a scientific background.

Independent Assortment (of chromosomes on the spindle)

In biological terms, this means that chromosome pairs will align along thread (the spindle). This means that it doesn’t matter where the other pairs go on the thread, each pair will go wherever it pleases.

So, how can writers apply this principle?

It doesn’t matter what Stephen King is writing, or what Tolkien did – you are you. Put your characters in the situations you want to put them in. Sure, the Lord of the Rings is a successful series, but that doesn’t mean you need to copy it.

Be your own writer. You know what you want to write better than anybody else does, and the chances are somebody, somewhere will want to read what you have written. You shouldn’t ignore other writers, but you should remember that the best writing often comes when the author writes their piece in the way they wanted.

There is every chance somebody will suggest a change to the plot and by all means embrace the opportunity to make your piece more appealing, but if it goes against everything your piece stands for … well, don’t do it.

Crossing-over (of alleles)

In meiosis, the crossing-over of alleles (a version of a gene) involves the formation of chiasmata. Essentially, this means that one of the chromatids puts part of itself over its sister chromatid and they swap bits. This then means that later on there is variation between the originals and the new.
What does this mean for writers?

This was partly covered last month in Embrace the Cliché, but I will add to it now. It is fine to use ideas from other authors when you mix them with your own. In the long-run people will say, “this is a similar idea to…”, but they won’t be saying, “this is the same idea as…”. The reason is that you crossed your ideas with the other ideas making something unique.

There was a case a while back with an author being found to have copied large chunks of Ian Fleming’s James Bond series directly into his own writing. His defence was that he was under stress to complete his work and he thought that the success of James Bond would help him. What he should have done was taken a theme or idea from a section of James Bond and mixed it with his own concepts. This would allow him to embrace the success of James Bond without ripping it off.

Fusion of sex cells (gametes)

Meiosis forms four gametes. These cells will mature into sperm or egg cells for reproduction. Remember how crossing-over of alleles created variation? Well, this is why that is useful.  Due to the sheer number of unique gametes in both the male and the female, when two combine and fertilise it causes yet more variation. The child produced from these two cells will have features similar to both parents, but differences that make them unique.

How can a writer use this concept?

By crossing-over different ideas with their own from different sources, the end product will have similarities to the original ideas, but still be unique in its own right.

This may sound similar to the point I made above, but there is a subtle difference. I described crossing over one concept with your own in the previous section, but here I am describing the result of crossing many ideas over with many of your own.

Writing often starts with very little and grows into a large, complicated baby for the author. So, it seems apt that we can compare the process of writing to the fusion of two tiny haploid cells fusing together and growing to produce a marvellous and unique human being.

Hope this helps,
Matt B


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