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Why Fiction Writers Need Science

I’ll admit it: I’m a science nerd. I make a good portion of my living from scientific and technical writing. Plus, I just love most of the sciences. They’re fascinating. But even if I weren’t a few (dozen) math credits away from being Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory, I’d still read and learn about science to inform my fiction. Why? Because science is the foundation for everything, including fictitious people and situations.

Before you say, “I don’t write science fiction, so I don’t need an interest in science,” hear me out. Science isn’t just for technical writers, or writers of science fiction and fantasy. Science can make all fiction better.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that you have to go out and get a degree in chemistry or physics in order to be a better writer. You don’t have to include the level of detail that Andy Weir did in The Martian. But a little knowledge (or the willingness to look up details and facts and add them to your work) can’t hurt.

Science scope

Think about it: All fiction takes place in a world. It may be a world that you made up, or the real world that we walk around in every day. Whatever the case, all worlds operate on scientific principles. You may have gravity or not. Your world probably has weather, sunrise, and sunset (maybe more than one sun, even). People get sick and have to see doctors (or healers). Animals are often roaming around somewhere, even if just the family pet. That pet may have to see a veterinarian. Plants grow and maybe your characters have gardens, or live in a tree.

Your characters may be amateur bird watchers, work in a zoo, or they may be actual scientists working in laboratories. (Or wannabe chemists working in a meth lab. Whatever.) Your super-sleuth may spend time in the morgue looking at dead people, or investigating a terrorist bombing. Wouldn’t it be helpful to understand a little about the human body, or what makes for a successful bomb?

Much of fantasy, including witchcraft, shapeshifting, and fantasy beings/beasts, is grounded in science. How do you explain how your shifter changes form, or why she’s the way she is without a little science. Witchcraft and potion making is often glorified chemistry, botany, or manipulation of the elements. Fantasy animals are based on real animals, and the undead, vampires, and monsters have to be explained somehow. You need realistic underpinnings if you expect your reader to buy in to whatever weird stuff you’re selling.

Science rules everything in your character’s world. The least you can do is learn a little of it.Science DNA

The more you know about natural science, physics, biology, botany, zoology, astronomy, chemistry, etc., the more you can toss in small, relevant details that make your stories make sense to your readers. You don’t have to go overboard, but explaining how your world works and why gives you the credibility and reader buy-in that makes readers stick with your work. Otherwise, a reader is going to say, “I just can’t believe this crap,” and toss your book into the return pile.

If you’re a science-phobe and you can’t be bothered to learn or incorporate even small scientific details into your work, don’t expect your readers to stick with you. They don’t need a dissertation on the periodic table, but a little background on how the suicide bomber was able to combine chemicals into a successful bomb might be helpful. Or a few details that make it seem like your romance novel’s veterinarian boyfriend in your romance knows what he’s doing.  (Or not, if malpractice is your goal.) You have to give readers enough information for them to say, “Oh, that makes sense,” or, “Yeah, I could see that really happening.”

Science is the foundation for everything, including believable fiction that readers will love.

(Photos courtesy of NRosenberg, qimono, PublicDomainPictures

 

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