I’m fresh off a two-hour tangent where I fell down a rabbit hole reading about physics.
Why, you ask? What could that possibly have to do with writing?
I love science fiction, as you may well know. Other planets, advanced technology… the principles of what we might learn and who we might become in the future fascinates me. But also, as a writer, when I write sci-fi, I feel I owe it to everyone to do some basic research.
Lately I’ve noticed a trend, especially in movies, where the facts become insanely diluted and delve so far into hand-waving that it literally takes me out of the fiction. Some rules are just rules. At a movie I saw this year featuring a popular action hero, I was shocked to see that he walked into Chernobyl wearing nothing but the clothing on his back and was completely unharmed by the experience. I simply know too much about how radiation works to believe that. It was a bad moment this year when I looked at a movie and said “this is dumb”. I turned to my husband and said “So where’s the epilogue where he dies of acute radiation poisoning?”
When it comes to my readers I never want to make bad science take them out of the fiction. Perhaps they’re mostly there for the romance and that’s not a problem, but they should at least be able to believe the story could happen, given a few advances in scientific and technological understanding.
I’m no genius. I didn’t go to college. Give me a page full of mathematic and algebraic equations and they’ll make a whooshing sound as they pass right over my head. But I do love to learn and understand the basic principles of how things work.
There are shortcuts that we all take. Sometimes it’s easy to look at TV and other media and work off of their understandings of how things work. Most fiction about space travel borrows from Star Trek’s warp drive and classic science fiction’s concepts of faster-than-light travel. I won’t say that my books don’t. Sometimes you need to get your character from Point A to Point B without inventing a while new method of space travel.
Yet there are also other times when learning about the actual science helps take the plot in a new, more realistic direction instead of borrowing ideas from media that has already distorted the science. I had an outline for the ending to the novel I was already working on, but something just didn’t seem right. When this happens, I usually go back to the science to make sure everything’s correct. Well, I was wrong in my beliefs about this specific concept. The truth about this particular phenomenon is highly distorted in fiction to the point that falsehoods have entered the culture as facts. In short, everything I believed is mostly incorrect.
Strangely, I’m happy about that. Why? I’ve thought up a whole new ending. One that keeps the core elements of the plan for my characters but sticks to the facts as we understand them. I have a few details to hammer out, but it’s a satisfying feeling to know that scientific fact is improving my book.
So that when you read it, you might just be able to believe not only the science, but the romance as well. For after all – what is love, if not a law of nature?