Hello, friends! Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop created by Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted this month by Joylene Nowell Butler, Chemist Ken, Natalie Aguirre, Nancy Gideon, and Cathrina Constantine. If you’re a writer and if you feel insecure about your writing life, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!
I write science fiction. That’s the only genre I’ve ever wanted to write, and I doubt that will ever change. But when I was younger, I kind of hoped I could get away with writing Sci-Fi without really understanding science. And you know what? Maybe I could have. I’ve read plenty of good Sci-Fi stories that went a little wishy-washy on the science.
At some point, though, I made the decision to do my research. I made a commitment to learn the sciency stuff so that I could write better Sci-Fi. Doing that research has helped me in more ways than I anticipated.
Suspending the Reader’s Disbelief with Science
I have a touch-and-go attitude about putting science in science fiction. Sci-Fi doesn’t need to be 100% scientifically correct about everything all the time, but if you touch on a scientific fact now and then, it adds credibility to your story, and it makes it easier for the reader to suspend their disbelief when you start making stuff up.
Alternatively, if you make a laughably unscientific mistake, like describing the sound of an explosion in outer space or having a character see a laser blast coming straight toward her before it hits her, this will break the reader’s suspension of disbelief real quick.
Over the years, a few fellow writers have told me not to worry so much about scientific accuracy. The average reader, they claim, won’t know if I get a science fact wrong. And maybe they’re right, but science fiction readers are not the average reader. It’s important to know your audience, and if you write science fiction, your audience includes a lot of people who are more scientifically literate than the general population.
Science if Full of Writing Prompts
I think I have a pretty active and vivid imagination. I asked my muse, and she agrees with me about that. But as imaginative as I may be, the universe out there, as science currently understands it, is far weirder and wilder than anything I could have dreamed up on my own.
Did you know birds recognize the constellations and use them to navigate? Because they do. Did you know there was a seventy year period of time when all the sunspots mysteriously vanished from the surface of the Sun? Because that happened. Did you know there are naturally occurring nuclear reactors on this planet? Because there are! Could any or all of these random science facts be used as writing prompts? Yes. Yes, they could.
Just about every time I do my science research, I find new ideas for stories. Or, if I don’t find a totally new story idea, I find something new I can add to a story I’m already working on.
Using Science Role Models as Writing Role Models
If you ask most writers who their role models are, they’d probably point to people like Hemingway or King. Those are perfectly fine role models, of course, but as I’ve fallen deeper and deeper down the science research rabbit hole, I’ve discovered curious parallels between the life of a writer and the life of a scientist.
The way Albert Einstein solved complex scientific problems with his imagination (for example, by imagining what might happen as trains and elevators accelerated to the speed of light), or the way Marie Curie kept doubling down on her research into X-rays, “uranium rays,” and other forms of radiation (which ultimately killed her, of course, but I still admire her relentless dedication to science)—these people are my role models now, in addition to people like Tolkien, Asimov, or Roddenberry.
Whenever I’ve struggling to write, whenever I’m stuck on some story problem that seems unsolvable, I think about people like Einstein or Curie. I think about how they kept plugging away at the problems in front of them until they found solutions.
I’m not going to tell you that if you write science fiction, you must do your research. I hate that “if X, then you must do Y” kind of writing advice. Every writer is unique. Every writer has their own approach to writing. Do whatever feels right to you. It is absolutely okay to make yourself the exception to the rule.
But doing my research has helped me in ways I never expected. So if you’re not already doing research for your stories (Sci-Fi or otherwise), then I’d say its worthy giving research a try.
Thanks for reading, friends! I look forward to chatting with you in the comments!