Science in Science Fiction…& Paranormal?
by Leah Petersen
This past weekend I attended Ad Astra convention in Toronto, ON. It’s a great con, and if you’re anywhere nearby, you should check it out next year. One of the panels I was on was called Science in Science Fiction. Now what does this have to do with Dorothy’s blog, when she’s a paranormal writer?
Bear with me.
One of the things that kept coming up was how important it is to respect your audience by making sure you do your homework. We were talking specifically about making sure our science wasn’t way out there, even when we’re fast forwarding hundreds of years into the future, or transplanting ourselves to other planets, or who knows what.
But if we’re writing about things that aren’t scientifically possible now, we can do whatever we want, right?
Nope. Why? Because your readers aren’t stupid. If you put people in outer space without ships or suits, you’d better have a really good explanation for how they haven’t died before the end of page one.
That goes for all sorts of genres.
Paranormal, for example, is that fun blend of science fiction and fantasy. The stuff that could almost be happening in our world but isn’t, and isn’t likely to just because we’ve made some new scientific discovery. So anything goes, right?
No, and here’s why: Your story, your world, your characters can be so much better if you take the time to be accurate. For example, if your character is a shapeshifter, someone’s going to notice and be frustrated by the fact that she’s 4’9” when she’s human and 12’ 1” when she’s a were-unicorn. You’re violating some pretty significant principles of physics and biology there, even accounting for the unicorn bit. So don’t pull a trick like that. Or, better yet, do it, just know HOW.
Skimming over the years of your life spent in high-school science classes, you know that we’re mostly empty space, because each individual atom we’re made of is mostly empty space, a little bit of nucleus and a lot of cloudy area made up of the protons and neutrons. With me? Great.
But there’s still only so much mass there. So if you stretch it out too much, you’re unlikely to get a very stable or solid were-unicorn. But what if something about your world makes the atoms of were-unicorns in their human form hold their protons and neutrons closer, what if there’s much less empty space than an average human. Well then you’ve got so much more to work with when it’s time to stretch that same collection of atoms into a being three times its size.
Why did I just bore you with the physics lesson? Because if you pay attention to the details, if you don’t make something happen just because you want it to, you’re not only going to have fewer pissed-off readers, you’ve got so many more possibilities! What would a human be like that is three times as dense as everyone around her? That’s Superman type stuff! Think of how it enriches your world, your characters, and opens up avenues that the average ‘well it’s a shapeshifter, it just works, ok?’ writer won’t find.
It’s more work. Let’s not kid ourselves. But if you want yours to be the book people love, that sticks with them and that they recommend to all their friends, you have to make sure they don’t throw it down in disgust, or just walk away at some point, shaking their heads at you.
Respect your reader. Do your homework. And keep writing!
Leah Petersen lives in North Carolina. She does the day-job, wife, and mother thing, much like everyone else. She prides herself on being able to hold a book with her feet so she can knit while reading. She’s still working on knitting while writing.
Cascade Effect, the sequel to her debut science fiction novel, Fighting Gravity , is available now (http://www.leahpetersen.com/).