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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Of Science and Storytelling

This past Saturday, I was fortunate enough to be back down in D.C. for the USA Science and Engineering Festival. When my parents first brought it up, I was reluctant to go. I thought it sounded, well, boring, and if I was going to be back in NoVa, I felt that I'd much rather spend the time with my friends. But one thing led to another, and Saturday morning I found myself walking through the doors of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to see what there was to see.

And, if you couldn't guess from the first sentence of this post, I had a lot of fun.

It's easy for me- and others too, I think- to say "I'm a fantasy writer. I use words and imagination. I tell stories. I'm bad at math and science, I don't like them, and I personally don't need to learn about them. After all, why would I ever need to know this stuff? I make up my own worlds and they run by my rules."

And maybe that's true. I highly doubt I'll ever need to know how to integrate powers of sin and cos, or identify the organs in an earthworm, or calculate the energy needed to push a block up an ideal plane, in order to write my novels.

But, on a larger scale, I'd argue that writers need to know about science far more than a lot of us would like to admit. 

At the Science and Engineering Festival, I learned how a polarizing filter worked and how that same polarizing filter, layers of plastic and tape, and a light source can create art. I discovered memory alloys and ferrofluids. I saw more robots of various shapes, sizes, and types than I knew existed and watched a demonstration of Lockheed Martin’s Fortis “exoskeleton” that supplements the strength, endurance, and productivity of shipyard workers. I walked through exhibits that promised this generation would see a Mars colony.

I enjoyed just about every minute of it- and not just because I got an awful lot of story-pieces.

Science can be boring. I don’t love it- which is why I’m not basing my career on it. But just because I don’t love it the way I love words doesn’t mean I don’t like it. When done right, learning about how this world works is as fascinating as any book. And why shouldn’t it be? For all the imagination and creativity a writer might put in to making her own book world, it’s only a fraction of what God put in to creating our world for us to discover and enjoy.

And that’s part of why writers- even fantasy writers; especially fantasy writers- should learn about science, even if it doesn’t seem useful at the time. We study the work of great writer-worldbuilders like Tolkien and Sanderson to discover their secrets. Why shouldn’t we also study the work of the greatest Author and World-Creator, and study it even more carefully than we do the lesser ones? By discovering how this world works, we can better build our fantasy realms; by knowing the rules here, we know how to break them- or not break them- elsewhere.

I’m not saying you need a science degree in order to write. I’m not saying that if you dislike science, you’ll be a bad writer. But I am saying that science is worth learning and worth enjoying. I, for one, plan to do both.

What do you think? Do you like science? Dislike it? Do you think a good writer needs to learn about science as well as how to use words? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

14 comments:

  1. So even though I despise science, this actually sounds semi-interesting? Something I COULD enjoy even though science makes me cringe. SO MUCH THINKING INVOLVED. :P

    // katie grace
    a writer’s faith

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    1. I think you could enjoy it too. :) You don't have to really know a lot about science to be amazed at what it can do, after all.
      Thanks for commenting!

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  2. Sometimes writers do need to be a jack-of-all-trades, knowing a little bit of everything to make their stories just that more real.

    Science is a mix for me. I can't figure out chemical equations to save my life, but when it comes to biology I perk up. I get all excited over the creation/evolution debates.
    Lately I've been dabbling in sci-fi. All of a sudden I'm researching gravity, atmosphere, and the science of surviving an escape-pod crash.

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    1. I'm the opposite, sort of. I prefer chemistry to biology, though some parts are pretty interesting. And coolness. What is there to the science of surviving an escape-pod crash?
      Thanks for commenting!

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    2. There's actually quite a bit involved in escaping a pod crash- the atmosphere, the speed and angle of impact, where the pod lands, how the pod is designed. From there I just researched how to escape a plane crash.
      That said, I still don't know half of what I'm doing. But it sure is fun!

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    3. Huh, interesting. I never would've guessed, though it does make sense. Glad you're enjoying it!

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  3. I definitely think sci-fi and fantasy writers need a decent amount of scientific knowledge to do well. It's basically a matter of knowing the rules so that you can bend or break them the right way.

    (Of course, I am a bit biased as I like science in general.)

    -Lertaen Miklul

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    1. Exactly. :) (And knowing you, I think I could've guessed that.)
      Thanks for commenting!

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  4. Glad you had fun! Seems like a really interesting event. Though I am by no means an expert in science, I really did enjoy it during school. Mostly the reading side. I loved astronomy, and enjoyed earth science, like weather types, climates, and plants. I also really liked learning anatomy, particularly because it was useful to know what kind of wounds a character could survive and which would kill them. :)

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    1. It was a very interesting event! I think you would've liked it.
      I never really learned anatomy except in connection with biology . . . and thus I have to figure that sort of thing out by Googling it. (Or by saying "Dragon Riders can heal it, whatever it is." But that only works in one series.)

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  5. I totally know what you mean!! I nearly failed science in highschool. GAH. It made zero sense to me...but I decided to really tackle it and be serious about it and IT ENDED UP BEING KINDA COOL. I like all the interesting facts. ;D I think a science festival would be quite fun! And I agree that we don't have to make careers out of everything...but almost everything in life can be useful for writing. ;D Which is awesome.

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    1. That actually describes how I felt about both science and history. (Though not in high school- history I disliked until about 6th grade, maybe later; science I actually started out liking and then it fell out of favor when I realized it wasn't all baking soda volcanoes and such. But then I started liking science more once I got to chemistry.)
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  6. It sounds like you had a great time! I'd love to go to a science fair one day. Some parts of science I find interesting, but other parts (like physics) tend to make me want to groan because it uses so much math. I'm not a big fan of math. But I love to use earth science such as how tectonic plates move, biology of unique animals, etc. to create detailed fantasy worlds.
    Great post! :D

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    1. I actually enjoyed physics because it was less memorization and scientific names than in biology. But chemistry is my favorite. *nods* I hope you can get to a science fair sometime!
      Thank you!

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