Jonathan Wakefield

Jonathan Wakefield is an information technology professional, holds a degree in Biology from the University of Richmond, and is a Craftsman graduate of the Christian Writers Guild. Jonathan’s short stories have appeared in The Rose & Thorn and The Messenger, and he has written articles for various magazines and journals, including New Man, Men of Integrity, Live, The Gem, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Fatal Reality—a finalist in the 2009 Operation First Novel contest—is his debut novel. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his wife and two sons. Visit to learn more about him.

Author By Night

Novel Programming

Many times when a stranger learns that I’m a novelist, a typical dialogue ensues:

“That’s neat that you’re a novelist. Is that your full-time job?”

“I just do it on the side for now. I’m a computer programmer during the day.”

“That’s a strange combination. What did you study in school—computers, or writing?”

“Biology and mathematics.”

Silence coupled with a totally confused look.

It seems counter intuitive to many people that someone with an educational background in science and math and a professional background in computer programming could also write novels. It’s often assumed that creative thinking and logical thinking are inversely proportional to each another.

I disagree. For me, the creative and logical thought processes naturally overlap. A computer programmer possesses an attention to detail and the ability to organize code in a way that will produce an efficient program that satisfies the requirements for its design. Similarly, a novelist must possess the same attention to detail and the ability to organize a plot and a variety of characters in a way that produces a well-paced and interesting story that satisfies readers.

If anything, I find that writing a novel requires more logical thinking than writing a computer program (or solving a math equation). I’ve written many programs during my thirteen-year information technology career and none has required a level of logical thinking and attention to detail anywhere close to that of the process of writing, editing, and polishing a novel (a good one, that is).

Consider: Novelists must have a thorough knowledge of spelling, grammar, and punctuation; they must create a completely fictional yet logically consistent reality; they must populate it with characters possessing distinct yet believable personalities that will naturally lead to major conflicts, both internal and external; they must include reasonable justifications—whether stated or implied—for every action characters take; they must maintain a plausible storyline with a beginning, middle, and end—all organized to flow smoothly (many novelists even create spreadsheets and diagrams to manage the story and all its scenes); they must know precisely where to begin and end every scene and what to include to achieve the maximum impact and smoothest flow; if they change something in one scene, they must manage the ripple effect, correcting any inconsistencies it may create in other related scenes; they must keep every detail—such as characters’ eye colors, ages, speech patterns, and personality distinctions—consistent throughout the entire novel.

This is merely a sampling of the many logical details that writers must control at all times to produce the desired result of a pleasurable read.

Furthermore, all of these considerations don’t come together on the first try. As with computer programming, novel writing requires an extensive editing process. When a piece of computer code isn’t written properly, an error message is generated, pointing to the flaw. I then fix the broken code until it executes successfully. With a novel, while I don’t receive a specific error message on my computer screen, a test reader may send one,

pointing to a part of the story that doesn’t make sense. Often, though, I can sense a problem on my own, whether it’s a plot hole or an unbelievable character action. I then go in and keep adjusting the “story code” until the novel flows smoothly from start to finish, producing that pleasurable read.

In my novel, Fatal Reality, a reality show is taken hostage by the show’s creator, who pits six contestants against one another in a two-hour race for survival, which is broadcast on live TV. To make the story as engaging as possible, my logical thinking skills were essential. For example, I had to create and manage strong personalities driven by distinct and opposing worldviews for every race contestant; I had to give each character a unique background and voice, as well as design the course so that it would (a) create scenarios for massive conflict and (b) all believably yet unpredictably lead to the ambitious conclusion I was aiming at; I had to make sure that every character action was plausible and driven by the core of who the character was; and with so many things happening at once in such a short period of time, I had to carefully organize the placement and scope of every scene to maintain suspense, forward movement, and a smooth overall flow. I also injected puzzles into the race, using biblical codes and anagrams to confuse and help the characters along the way.

I can’t say how well I executed each of these challenges; that’s for readers to decide. But I can say that writing (programming) Fatal Reality stretched my logical thinking skills to the limit as I plotted, diagrammed, organized, edited, etc., striving to ultimately create a pleasurable read.

So for any authors out there looking to supplement their writing income, you may want to consider a side career as a computer programmer. Take it from me: if you can manage the complexities of writing a novel, writing a computer program should be simple.


Fatal Reality