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)