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If you add Science facts to your Story how much do you Add?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Arranah, Jul 2, 2019.

  1. Arranah

    Arranah Minstrel

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    In my current novel I'm weaving in quantum mechanics, specifically quantum entanglement. I just don't know how much to explain and how much to leave to the imagination. I don't want to bore the reader to death. I want to create a tease and lead the reader along. How do you handle yours?
     
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Explanation for scientific matters would be no different from explaining other things, from outfitting a horse to cooking to sailing. The flip (but correct) answer is: only just enough, and only at just the right times.

    Keep in mind, too, that what is fascinating to one reader will be boring to another and will be insufficient to yet a third. All you can do is to take your best shot, then get feedback from beta readers, a critique group, or an editor. But the key is, forget that it's science. It's just another thing that needs describing or explaining.
     
    Night Gardener likes this.
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I'm going to second this. It's just another thing you have to touch base on. That's especially true if the science is the foundation of a magic or sci fi component. At that point you can't really cover it quite like hard science because then it raises the standards for suspending disbelief on the rest of it.

    Just a quick example of what I mean, in Ant Man the Pym particles are supposed to close the distance between atoms to make something small. It's a great explanation. But if you spend a lot of time looking at the hard science, the more it exposes plotholes, and eventually the final explanation starts to look like the handwavium BS it actually is. Even with the best possible explanation, there's still the scientist in the lab shaking his head going, "But how do you suggest overcoming the effect on its gravitational waves?" or whatever it might be. Because if the scientist in the lab doesn't have a challenge it wouldn't just be an idea in a novel.

    The science has to blend into the speculative side of the story, not serve to draw a big highlighter around it. Going too hard with the science can sometimes undermine that.
     
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  4. Arranah

    Arranah Minstrel

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    Thanks both of you. I've been writing for a long time and watch a lot of documentaries. Some of the theories that seem like B.S in the first place turn out to be valid. Can you give me examples of how you do it? James Michner for example explained things way too deeply. He was very successful, but when I read his work I skip a lot of it and therefore miss important stuff.
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Just to reiterate my point: Michener explained things way too deeply *for you*. Others, as you noted, loved that stuff.

    I have to make myself happy first. So, the level of detail is what *I* would want from a book. That's first. During edits, I become more critical and try to become more objective. For descriptions, this sometimes means adding more description where I pictured it in my head more clearly than I described on paper. Other times it means cutting. When the work goes to readers, they will sometimes ask for more detail. More often, though, they find places where I explain things not in too much detail but rather more than once. I will sometimes forget in Chapter 18 that my characters had already discussed something in Chapter 7. That sort of thing.

    In any case, don't worry about what you might write. The only time to be concerned with these matters is once you've actually written something.
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    How important is quantum entanglement to your plot? The more important it is, the more you have to give the reader a grounding in the science you’re using, especially if it is important to the resolution of the conflict.
     
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    > How important is quantum entanglement to your plot?
    I have ambivalent opinions on this sort of thing, broadly. Replace "quantum entanglement" with any X topic.

    First, how do we decide what's important? The only useful guideline I have isn't even a guideline, it's another question: how important is X at this point? The question isn't does the reader need to know about X generally, but does the reader need to know about X right here on page 141?

    There are some corollaries of this. One, does the character need to know about X just now? What do other characters know about X at this juncture? This helps me decide whether the explanation lies with the narrator or in the mouth of one of the characters. Two, how much about X is needed at this point? Often it's not necessarily to dump everything about X all at once. Three, what can I lie about? Or, to put it more kindly, in what ways are the characters mistaken or deceived (villain!) about X?

    Another corollary--oh all right, another set of questions--concerns plot. There's another angle here. Sometimes learning about X has little to do with the plot but much to do with tone. Jules Verne is on my brain just now, so examples from him spring most readily to mind. Whether it's A Journey to the Center of the Earth or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Verne can spend paragraphs and pages explaining things--mostly science stuff, so if you're looking for concrete examples, go re-read Verne. And if you haven't read him, go do it now.

    Anyway, for the modern reader those passages are tedious. For this modern reader they were. I loved Verne as a teenager, but now it's just a wearying blur. For the readers of the later 19thc, however, it was all gee-whiz stuff. They ate it up. Reveled in it. Who cared about the plot? They were reading about Modern Wonders!

    The point is, the extended explanations were vital to setting the tone of the novel. This approach is much toned down in modern writing but it can still be spotted in the unnecessarily detailed descriptions of fashion, for example, or in the details of kenneling or cooking or what-have-you. Another example now comes to me: Ian Fleming spends *pages* describing how baccarat works in his first Bond novel, Casino Royale. He also loved telling us the details of a gun or a car. Utterly unnecessary to the plot, but utterly Bond.

    At any rate, the whole topic feels subtle and complex to me. But I myself am subtle and complex. (with a nod to Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice).
     
  8. Arranah

    Arranah Minstrel

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    I've written and published twelve books. Been writing since 1981. One thing I learned long ago is that every word has to earn it's keep. The novel I'm currently working on is 61,000 words and about 3/4 of the way done. I've been writing it for two years. Since this story is an experiment for me, I'm playing with it. Some of my books take me five years to write and rewrite, some two. My first book took ten - it was creative nonfiction. Quantum entanglement is an underlying theme. I have the grounding science in the book already. My protagonist's grandfather is a well-known physicist who is an advisor for the Hadron Collider. At this point I do not belabor the science. I give just enough to tease.
     
  9. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

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    One question: how well do you understand quantum entanglement? I ask because it's a topic that is often critically misunderstood in the media. My standing advice on including real science in a story is than if you don't understand it, then either do your research until you do understand it, or don't have it at all. Most of us geeks actually have no problem suspending disbelief when it comes to technobabble or hand-wave explanations. The real problem is when an author references real science, and that science is wrong. A general audience typically isn't going to know the difference between technobabble and real science, so all you've done by getting the real science wrong is annoy the nerds of the world. On the other hand, if you get the science right, you'll get enormous bonus nerd gratitude points.

    Like others have asked, how important is quantum entanglement to the story? If it's just background information (Oh, yeah, my grandpa's a scientist working on that!) then I think that it's fine. But, what do you mean when you say "Quantum entanglement is an underlying theme?" What are you planning on doing with that?
     
  10. Arranah

    Arranah Minstrel

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    I've watched a lot of documentaries on quantum entanglement. I have scientifically based conversations with my engineering, astrophysicist friend Don and also my husband who both have huge interests in the subject. An idea occurred to me about how it might work in a given arena and what some perceive as reality. I asked Don what book he recommended so I could better understand it. He gave me a title by Bruce Rosenblum aand Fred Kuttner. It's called Quantum Enigma. He said it's the easiest for a layperson to understand. As mentioned I've been writing for a long time and I understand the need for research. I've attended numerous writers' conferences and taken workshops from some of the masters, who have now passed away. One of the things they all said was not to share details of what you are working on with others. Someone else may pick up the idea and run with it, get their book on the market and your book is passed over for theirs. So I don't do that. Writing is about doing what's right for me. It's what I always do. Otherwise there is no point to it.
     
  11. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

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    Well, that's the opposite advice that I've always heard: "Ideas are cheap. It's execution that counts. Every idea has been done before, so all you can do is put your own unique spin on it." Then again, I've never published anything, so...

    It seems like you understand the science fairly well, then. Beware, though. I've also watched some also watched documentaries on quantum entanglement that seriously misrepresent the topic, even from shows like Nova that are usually fairly high quality.
     
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >The real problem is when an author references real science, and that science is wrong.

    This applies to history as well. I have no trouble at all suspending my disbelief when the author is clearly just riffing or using history for inspiration. When the author claims historical accuracy, then I turn into Scholar Mode, and I'm far from alone in this. On MEDIEV-L, the oldest listserv for professional historians, we long ago agreed not to discuss the movie Braveheart. We don't even mention the name. Not so much because of the many egregious mistakes but because Gibson and the producers insisted they'd made a historically accurate movie. And because it's regarded in that light by many.

    Along somewhat the same lines, I do not get as upset as others at unrealistic horses or ridiculous sword fights, so long as the author makes no pretenses. It's fantasy. I appreciate it if they provide a handwavium explanation for why the horse can run for ten hours without a break, but so long as all the other horses can do the same, I'm fine with that. As an example. But if the author is inconsistent in this, or claims some sort of realism, then it's daggers out.

    The best way to approach this for the amateur is to do the research, give it your best shot, then give the finished product--the finished novel, not just ideas--to beta readers with a strong science background. They'll be glad to bring their own daggers. :)
     
    Vaporo and Malik like this.
  13. Arranah

    Arranah Minstrel

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    Vaporo, I assume you have not gone to writers' conferences and talked to the masters. Advice is cheap. We need to learn from those who know. For example if you wrote a book on X, and you submit it to an agent or a publisher, they could say, oh we just published a book about X, without even looking into your spin on it, and they won't even consider yours. This is the reality of the situation. Publishers have marketing departments that won't allow some of the best of works to be published because they have just invested in another book in the same area.

    Fiction is fiction. We can play with history. It's fun to do so. I published a book about Jesus' little sister. I'm sure a lot of people thought it sacrilegious and absolutely wrong. Too bad. I wrote it because I wanted to. History is just what someone wrote about something that supposedly happened. Most of it too is laced with errors. History is written by the victors or those with specific agendas.

    skip.knox box. I'm not an amateur. My author science oriented husband and my engineer astrophysicist friend will read for me. They won't just give me pats on the head, but sound advice. They've done so before, and I adjusted my work accordingly.

    Okay, I'm done responding to this thread. Thanks for all the input.
     
  14. PelenTan

    PelenTan Acolyte

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    First rule: Organic only. Two businessmen using a teleporter to get to work on a different planet are going to have two concerns: does it work and will it make them spill their coffee. There is no reason to go into any detail that they, the actors, wouldn't notice or care about.

    Second rule: Story only. Assuming the upcoming tech conversation is organic, make sure it progresses the story. Your not writing non-fiction here. If there is nothing in your description or the _giving_ of the description that progresses the story, ditch it. This is true of every single other bit or bob you want to include in your book so it shouldn't be forgotten when it comes to scientific explanations.

    Third rule: Don't forget your job; it's just like a magician's. You, as a writer of sci-fi, have two primary jobs. The first is to entertain. Again, you're not writing non-fiction. People buy your books to relax and be taken out of the real world. You owe it to them to be entertaining. And the second is to inspire. Both their imagination and their curiosity. If you give too many details, you're going to either bore or sate them on that one, what should be small, aspect of the book. And won't inspire them at all. I could bring up uncounted examples of this but I'll just go one from Star Trek, the original series. I think it was mid-way through the first season, Gene and company got approached by some hospital admins that wanted to know the details on one of the really cool devices they were using. No, not the tricorder. The doors. They wanted to know how they were getting the doors to automatically open and open so fast. To say they were disappointed to learn it was done by two guys off-camera with levers would be an understatement. But then they found themselves an engineer and said "Make this!" And today we have people walking into doors because they don't realize that the _won't_ open automatically.
     
  15. Arranah

    Arranah Minstrel

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    Thanks. So this is what you do? That's what I want to know. I've been writing a long time. I want to know what you do.
     
  16. PelenTan

    PelenTan Acolyte

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    Yes, this is what I do. However, that is actually immaterial. What matters is what people read and enjoy.

    An example from my books. To get from system to system they travel through Transspace. They go through Entrance to and Emergence from using "Veil Hooks". All this is based on hard scientific theory; specifically around the Aether Theory. There are two sets of main protagonists: The aliens and the humans. The aliens learn the basics of this stuff in school. The humans, even though this is in the future, haven't been back to space and are being recruited as just fighters. There is very little reason for any more details to come out in a detailed conversation. But as the story goes, more and more details come out. In fact, the first use the humans find for the Veil Hooks as weapons. And for a Batman move.
     
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