Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Let's Keep It Real

Steampunk scientist is steamy and sciencey!
There’s a lot of science in writing, or at least there should be.  The best worlds, whether science fiction, fantasy or any of the subgenres (yay, steampunk!) need to be based in science.  You, as the writer don’t have to be scientists to know that your world operates by rules.  You start out with some fundamentals based on our own world, because that’s easiest.  Most worlds have gravity, and the physics of motion parallels our own.

Understanding those rules is the science of your worldbuilding process.

Yes, even in fantasy.

The key is to remember that you’re in charge!

So what do you do?

Well, you try to understand the actual science. Usually, a thing can be explained such that us non-science folk can at least get a finger on the concept, if not a full grasp. That way, you can write about that thing in such a way that you reflect your own understanding.

That’s the best way.

But, if you can’t get a full grasp on the subject, that doesn't mean you shouldn't write the story. At the end of the day, if the concept is decent enough, and the writing engaging enough, the science-savvy in your audience will be willing to forgive deviations from the science in pursuit of the plot.

Do you even compensate for science, bro?
In short, since this is science fiction and fantasy, the author can always fall back on the "fiction/fantasy" side in times of need.  Anne McCaffrey doesn't tell us how her dragons of Pern fly, or how the time travel works—it just does.  Star Trek is notorious for doing this, to the point that their technobabble almost became synonymous with the show.  They’d realign the deflector screens and reverse their warp particles to achieve whatever conflict resolution was needed.

An incredibly weak way to write.

On the other hand, look at the Trek-based “Heisenberg compensators”.  These were a real-ish science thing that needed to be part of the show based on how we understand science.  But as a friend pointed out, the “Heisenberg compensators” were like the imaginary number i—easy to conceptualize, but impossible to realize.  When asked by Time “How do the Heisenberg compensators work?” Michael Okuda replied, “They work just fine, thank you.”

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