I have a few ideas buzzing around in my head that have to put on
paper. The problem is in order to get to the "meat" of the story I
need real science, in this case quantum physics, with a drop
of "fictional physics" to get there. I have read some mainstream
physics books by Brian Greene and Michio Kaku and tons of Sci-Fi but
never wrote Sci-Fi before. How much do I need to know? Should I
write the story without the hard science and come back to that
later? I know this is vague but has anyone ever experienced this?
May 25th, 2004, 09:27 AM
Often it is a good idea to write the story quickly and use words like the "whatsit process that extracts the hoogymagunk" and fill in the proper words later, that way the flow of the story isn't affected by the need to run off and look up science books all the time.
However, you better have a good idea of the process before you start writing so that all the characters are reacting properly and in the rewrite you better make it iron clad because some reader out there WILL know the process inside out.
May 25th, 2004, 11:55 AM
This really depends on the story you want to tell. In the end what you need to do is put down enough "plausible" science so that the reader is willing to suspend any disbelief in favour of the story.
There will always be a few nuts out there who will read your story and want to criticise your understanding of science. There's not much you can do about people like that - but I generally avoid writing for them specifically. When I want the approval of the scientific community, I'll publish in scientific journals.
The bottom line is that you're writing fiction and so the science can't be perfect.
I once had someone critique a space battle sequence that I wrote. In it I included a description about a laser literally pushing a starship around and made a comment about momentum transfer. One of my reviewers made the comment that photons don't carry momentum because they are massless. While I wanted to give the reivewer a refresher course of first year physics, I simply smiled and accepted the review.
If you want help with the physics itself, you may want to take a course. A lot of universities are offering "physics for non-scientists" style courses these days. In them they concentrate on concepts rather than mathematics, and they make an effort to keep things understandable for the layperson.
May 25th, 2004, 11:56 AM
I say the best thing is not to go into detail about the science. This just turns it into a different form of fantasy. i find it to be quite effective when introducing sci-fi elements.
May 25th, 2004, 11:58 AM
The good news is that so fews authors hold to strict scientific principles that the ones who do are grouped together as a subgenre - Hard sci/fi.
If you really want a bar of realism to shoot for, look at the works of people like Greg Benford and Hal Clement, physicists turned authors, to see the level of detail that they use. Some of their stuff is pretty good. One thing you might notice among the Hard sci/fi crowd though, is that some of it is so mind-numbingly dull that you have to prop your eyes open with toothpicks just to make it through the book. This is to say that you should never substitute knowledge of subject (Science) for plot and characterization (Storytelling).
Another good thing about quantum physics is that no one actually understands it. People like Kaku are quick to point this out. I think that you just need a basic working knowledge of some of the principles and one other thing; know what you don't know.
You can do it like Rocket said, leave some blanks, then go and find out if your Quantum Floozinator violates any of the known rules (and since quantum physics is still largely theory it has fewer known rules than some people might think). Look up a local college professor and run your questions past them. You may think that sounds strange if you're not an established writer, but a lot of the scholarly types jump at the chance to talk shop, and won't care whether you're Stephen King or not.