Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to Keep Your Science Realistic

One of the things that turns a lot of readers off to science fiction (I think) is that it's just too far out there. A lot of people have trouble connecting to a book that they feel isn't based at least partially in reality. For example, I'm a big fan of Timothy Zahn (sorry, he doesn't have a web site that I've been able to find). I started reading one of his series called the Conquerors Trilogy. The premise was really cool and I absolutely loved the first book. I enjoyed the second book, but I didn't love it and that made it really hard to get through. The problem was that Zahn wrote the entire second book from the perspective of an alien race; cool idea, but I just couldn't connect with the characters and I had a hard time keeping track of things. But I digress.

My point is that, as science fiction writers, we need to make sure the science in our stories isn't too far beyond comprehension. I've found a couple useful resources and tips for doing just that. (Incidentally, I wish I head learned this before I finished my first book.)
  1. Find a mentor in the sciences: Personally, I like to talk to my brother. He's an engineer and works mostly on renewable/alternative energy research. Fortunately, he's also a science fiction fan and likes to think about the physics of our genre. He's a great resource because he can explain why something might work (even if we can't get it to work in real life yet) or why something definitely won't work. Besides, it's kind of fun just to kick ideas around with him!
  2. Do some research: I know this sounds like a fate worse than death, but it can be really fun. I don't mean you have to earn an advanced degree or anything, you just have to do a little digging to get some background information and a foundation to build your ideas on. I hope the intellectual community wont' lynch my for saying this, but wikipedia is a great place to start. You can get a lot of basic facts and usually plenty of good resources. I also like Science in My Fiction. They do a pretty good job of covering the science fiction standards (energy weapons and the like), especially explaining how writers often misuse them.
  3. Share your ideas: I've said it before, but the best way to make sure your ideas will keep your readers interested is to discuss them with someone who reads a lot of science fiction! I love talking to one friend in particular because he'll actually try to punch holes in my ideas (not maliciously). It can be a royal pain sometimes, but it forces me to think about my ideas and see if they really work.
So, what do you do to keep your science real?

P.S. For all you fantasy writers, don't feel left out! I'm tackling magic in my next post!


  1. Very true! I actually find it hard as a reader to find great books that aren't way out there and still have great plots. I use rcommendations more than anything. I am writing for kids, and certainly can't talk over their heads with science!!

  2. You've made a great point. I've been more into sci-fi than ever before, but there are still some stories that lose me after they throw in something totally bogus and just expect me to be able to relate. It's important to keep it real. Thanks for the tips.

  3. Great post, Reece! This is one thing I actually love about writing sci fi-- doing research. I did a ton of research for my current wip, even taking a tour of a military base focused on biological warfare prevention. Every time I work on a sci fi book, I HAVE to find a reason everything in it is remotely possible. Even if it isn't exactly possible, if I can come up with a scientific explanation of how it could be, I'll write it.

    Thanks for sharing these tips!

  4. Great post! I'm not really a sci-fi kind of girl, but I do like reading it. I also love when the author makes everything realistic. When they throw weird stuff in there just for the heck of it, it usually loses me. I could never write sci-fi. Too complicated! LOL I'm a fantasy chick all the way! :D Thanks for stopping by my blog! :) I'm a new follower.