Tag Archives: Jonathan Swift

The Terrible Case of the Research Jitters

As one of the most influential genres in all of the written word, science fiction has become the genre of the speculation. For humans, speculation and inquiry are the two most important aspects to our intellect because it leads to the discovery, and invention of the most amazing things ever created.

The genre is so embedded into the culture of humanity that we have been taking ideas from science fiction stories and creating innovations for the last century.  Science fiction is so important to write that the following quote is the only reason I need to write as much of it as I can:

Rod Serling‘s (narrator of The Twilight Zone) definition is “fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.”

What if the world looked like this?

While most speculate the first true science fiction book, I would like to contribute the circle of contributors. These writers have made the genre what it is today, a magnificent support for the advancement of humanity.

Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Jonathan Swift, and many more have opened a door to eternal truth and speculation. You see, science fiction answers the ever-asking question–what if?

What if there were giant holes in the universe that had such a high density that its gravity simply took everything  near it and obliterated it. Black holes-the existence has been known to man for only a short time. Yet, the idea that black holes exist was formed in a fiction book. It’s crazy to think that some of the marvels like the submarine were one imaginative objects in the plots of books. It is here that I begin my attempt at a very science-y fiction story.

Earlier this week I described the setting for a horror, and the important of setting in place in that genre. When it comes to science fiction, however, it is the research that creates the most believable story. There is no need to put the  most extravagant idea down on paper and expect it to be invented. What makes science fiction loved by millions is its ability to be realistic and potentially happen in the future. For most writers, the constant research is just a part of the job. However, for the science fiction writer, a background in the science is almost mandatory. Arthur C. Clarke is one of the big three of science fiction and his background in radio and satellite communication allowed him to write phenomenal books that transformed the genre. 2001: A Space Odyssey opened our eyes to the future of space travel, AI, and remarkably–tablets used by thousands around the world today. He had such an influence they named the geostationary satellites after him.

It makes sense that the writer of science fiction should first and foremost be a scientist, but where does that leave the rest of us? My degrees will be in literature and writing, not physics and bio-mechanics. So, what gives me the right to say I can effectively write science fiction on things I don’t understand completely. Well, the answer is in the research. While I may not do as much research for say a romance story, I will always do research for my stories. It is a dedication to learning and Socrates’ philosophy that we are all ignorant. The world is waiting for me to discover the truth in it, and I will be damned if ignorance stops me from writing the story in my head.

This takes us to my research. For some non-writers, it may seem like a simple task of googling a few facts and then pounding out a novella. Regrettably, too many people have the mindset that it isn’t difficult to write about things if you know a few facts. However, this is not the case when it comes to writing. If I am taking a test on say the most conductive metals, I could just rattle off silver, copper, and gold. If I want to write a story that uses this simple fact, I must understand what it means to be a conductive metal, how it behaves, and which ones do what better. Not so easy, huh? This research may take a few minutes to an hour, and only provide me with enough information to write a sentence or two.

Depending on what type of science fiction story you’re writing, the amount of detail will vary as well as the amount of research needed. Immersive fiction will require much more research and development to create entire worlds and races that are foreign to our own existence. At the same time, interactive fiction will require significant research just for a small amount of detail in the actual writing.

I wish I could ask the big three of science fiction what they did when they were writing outside of their field, but alas it would be pointless. I must find my own way of developing the science aspect without the years of experience. Lucky for me, learning is a game in itself, so I have some fun late nights ahead of me. For science fiction writers out there–how do you cope with the research jitters?

Do you take it one step at a time or lose yourself in the science to write the story?

Share how you do research for a story, and HAPPY READING AND WRITING!

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The Gathering Week One

Well, the first book I have to read for my residency with acclaimed western writer, Jane Boyer (Candia Coleman) is The Gathering by Anne Enright. Now you must be thinking, what is a western writer doing assigning an Irish writer to a bunch of first years (freshman so to speak)? The answer would be my upcoming trip to Dublin, Ireland in June. Why Anne Enright? Because she could very well be there during the residency and she is a fantastic example of Irish writing.

The copy I'm currently reading looks like this 🙂

I’ve had some experience with Irish writing. Mostly James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, John Millington Synge, and William Trevor. My experience first came in a Irish Short Fiction class during my junior or senior year of my undergrad. It would have been an amazing class if it had not been at 8 o’clock in the morning three days a week. There is just something about 8 a.m. that makes the brain want to work less. It was interesting nonetheless and I expect my time in Ireland will be much better than sleepy mornings in the basement of the library.

Returning to the purpose of the post, I have spent the last few days starting Anne Enright’s book.  The book is set in Ireland and England, so far. To me, they are exotic enough that just the areas she describes excite me to read more. As much as I enjoy her use of vocabulary and detailed scenes, I force myself to slow down. Too frequently, readers forget how to read slow and simply skim over the words only processing half of them. My friends and family may think I’m a fast reader because I finish books quickly, but that is not the case. In fact, I would describe myself as a slow reader on purpose. I want to savor the moments of a book whether it is for school or for pleasure. Reading shouldn’t be a race to get to the end of the story. A book should be read at the pace that it’s written.

For example, Carrie by Stephen King, I read in one sitting or a few hours. It was relatively small for a Stephen King novel, but the fast paced nature of the story is what led me to read it quickly. The author somewhat dictates how fast or slow you read the book, but the story also does that.  For the books I’m required to read for school, though, I deliberately take my time to savor and analyze the book. As I have  learned from my first residency, there is a difference between reading as a reader and reader as a writer. I struggle automatically to differentiate the two while reading.

However, I’m not alone as it is a skill acquired with time and practice. It is easy to enjoy a story and read for pleasure. It is another to read from an academic point and analyze potential literature for archetypes and common themes. It is another point all together to read as a writer. It is completely different to read thinking about style, voice, and point of view. To understand how a writer wrote such a fantastic story from the inside is a task not easily handled. So, I have only delved 1/5 of the way through the world Enright has created.

I am following an Irish family as they suffer through one of many deaths. The main character, Veronica Hegarty, is suffering most from her brother’s suicide. Although, from the first few pages, their deranged mother seems to be suffering more than all of her remaining children combined. I think the casual nature that Enright brings in the dysfunction of the family appeals most to me. Everyone thinks they have the most dysfunctional family, until they look at the house next door or down the street. It is that familiarity that your family infuriates you (Veronica being the responsible one and having to take care of all the arrangements) and soothes you (hasn’t happened yet, but I hope it will) without you even realizing it. She depicts a playful relationships with the past and present of Veronica’s life in addition to an imaginative past of her grandparents’.

I am struck by how quintessential family can become in just a few chapters. It doesn’t have to relate at all to your own family because people always find similarities in the smallest things. It is simply the struggle of dealing with family and death that makes this book so easy to connect. Two elements that in one way or another shape every human being, every living creature on the planet. I look forward to each page, attempting to understand the bits of Irish culture embedded in the  story as well as the overall feeling of Enright as a writer. If I do have the chance to meet Enright, I will surely faint for the sheer fact that she is an acclaimed Irish writer. More importantly, I will again be in awe of those much more experienced and eloquent doing the most valuable thing in the world, writing.

So, I leave you reader to return to The Gathering and coincidentally my cup of Irish Breakfast tea. Hope you will check out this little piece of Irish life as I prepare to write a paper about it.

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