Entropy in storytelling

Or, the inevitable decline into disorder

Entropy is the opposite of stasis, and therefore, the exact thing that makes stories so interesting. A character wakes up one morning expecting their life to roll along as it always had, and then WHAM. Disorder, a break, destruction. And nothing can ever go back to how it was, because that’s how life works.

The characters must rebuild.

Disaster forces characters to move forward, to take the shards of their lives and make something new. It will never be the same, but, we hope, it might be better.

In The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, Patricia Campbell’s life is, let’s face it, a tad ordinary. Small. Not so exciting. Is it any wonder she loves her book club and the thrilling books the club chooses to read? And then, one night, disorder strikes in the form of her neighbor who violently attacks Patricia. Turmoil along all the fault lines of her life follows, and Patricia must gather her wits and fight or get…er… let’s say buried under the wreckage.

Internal breakdown is just as interesting

The thing about entropy is that it’s not just about external lives falling apart, but a character’s carefully maintained internal ones as well.

In Long Bright River by Liz Moore, Mickey, a cop in a working class neighborhood of Philadelphia, goes about her life, not happy, but not doing anything to change, either. Then, her sister disappears and Mickey needs to stir all sorts of hornet nests to find out what happened, including ones inside her soul.

And when society breaks down, watch out. It’s the most interesting read of all.

Perhaps the best novel I’ve read that illustrates how entropy in storytelling works is J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise. In an anonymous London high-rise, things begin to fall apart. First, elevators. Then, lights. Then social constructs, behaviors, people’s understandings of themselves. By the time all the food’s been eaten, there’s dead things in the pool and… well. Now that we’re out of lockdown, go ahead. Read it.

Emilya Naymark

Emilya Naymark is the author of the novels Hide in Place and Behind the Lie.
Her short stories appear in the Bouchercon 2023 Anthology, A Stranger Comes to Town: edited by Michael Koryta, Secrets in the Water, After Midnight: Tales from the Graveyard Shift, River River Journal, Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories 2017, and 1+30: THE BEST OF MYSTORY.

When not writing, Emilya works as a visual artist and reads massive quantities of psychological thrillers, suspense, and crime fiction. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family.


  1. For fun, read the vampire one. For grit, the Philly one. For a deep dive into the breakdown of a collective unconscious, High-Rise.

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