1. TheClassified
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    TheClassified Member

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    How to simplify science?

    Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by TheClassified, Feb 22, 2015.

    Hey, I have never written before and I have that idea... Well you know how one starts.

    But a question now arises, how detailed should the science in science fiction be? Science today has a huge problem. There is that part of science for all the people, and then there is the part for the researchers. The gap between understandable and accurate gets bigger and bigger. Well I love science, read a lot about it (real science, not the novels) and am quite often confronted with it. So it drives me nuts when I read something written by yellow journalism. On the other hand, I can understand that you need to simplify concepts and ideas to bring them to the mass. (pun intended...)

    I read a thread about the magic of science fiction. You should not explain a concept in detail, because at the end of the day it's a novel and no thesis. But when I'm talking about quantum fields for example, how detailed should I write that the researcher knows what I mean (and I'm still correct), but the high school math-hater understands it's importance in the novel. How can I simplify scientific concepts? I could change their names and go from a "Higgs field" to a field of mass. But would the science geek still enjoy my novel as much as the weekend reader? On the other hand, would the weekend reader enjoy my novel if I would keep the name "Higgs field"? Can I keep scientific names in it, so that the weekend reader thinks I created the name "Higgs field", just like "the force" (in another well known novel), but the scientist knows that it's accurate?

    Where do I draw the line between accurate science and understandable science in a novel? Are there guidelines to do such a thing?


    And an off-topic question... Can I somewhere post parts of my writing so that someone has a look at it? If so, where?

    Thank you...
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2015
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  2. HelloImRex
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    HelloImRex Contributing Member

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    I think you might have to pick an audience. It sounds like not simplifying it comes easier to you so why not write the story without simplification. There is one way around it I can think of which is the science fiction comedy thing where the explanations are purposefully absurd and have subtleties people who know more understand more. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Futurama (tv show example) do this pretty well and appeal to people who know different amounts of stuff. You could also try an approach where you start explaining stuff more and more as the story goes on so the people who don't understand anything feel invested and have to continue even though they don't know whats being described half the time by the end of the book. That would be hard to do well though especially since explanations usually fall more naturally at the beginning.

    You have to post 20 messages and have at least two make fun of someone's work in the workshop. After that you can post stuff in the workshop for people to fun of but are encouraged to make fun of at least two works for each subsequent post you make in the workshop. Also you probably shouldn't make fun of people.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Welcome to the forum.
    First: posting in the workshop:
    That's an unfortunate comment to make to a new member.

    You need to be here 2 weeks, have 20 posts including 2 critiques of other's work in the workshop. The idea is critique takes up someone's time. A lot of people want to take up other's time without contributing back to the community. So we want you to contribute back first.

    Even inexperienced writers can have opinions about a piece worth contributing. Critique is the furthest thing from 'making fun of someone'. The joke was not funny.
     
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  4. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I actually think people who post in the workshop contribute more than those who critique. Critiquing helps the critic. Perhaps unintentional, the main reason behind the rule is to encourage new aspiring writers to get out of the "am I the next superstar?" mindset that most normal delusional beginner would be writers have, and instead to take an earnest detached looking at another's writing, see what works and what doesn't. It's the difference between closing one's eyes and taking a massive leap of faith (I am going to post my stuff on the workshop and pray someone sees something special in me) and taking measured, self aware steps to better one's writing (I couldn't get past this person's first sentence. Why is that and how can it be corrected?).
     
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  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Now, on to the science: Science fiction spans all of the above. Hard science tends to be more technically accurate but not all science fiction stays true to the science, in fact, predicting the future of science is bound to have hits and misses.

    A lot of 50s sci fi has people smoking aboard spacecraft. The famous miss of cell phones in Neuromancer is often cited. And we don't all have flying cars, but in my book they do. It just seems so logical. :p

    So you have the option, describe the future but ignore the science. Look how many sci-fi books include faster than light travel be it through the bending of space hyperdrives or worm holes. In my book I stuck with more realism, people travel with ion drives that go about .1% of the speed of light. Traveling 4 light years takes 40 Earth years. Interstellar travel involves generations and complete biospheres on large spaceliners.

    You can give the details or just describe the outcome, readers are generous suspending belief if the writing and plot are good.

    As for explaining particle physics, you'll probably lose more readers than you'll gain if you get too tied down in describing the science. But getting the science right in a sci-fi novel is different than boring the reader with the details. Consider that everything you write should move the plot forward. Too much technical detail will more than likely stall that progress altogether.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If I get into this with you it would hijack the thread. So I'll just agree to disagree. :)
     
  7. HelloImRex
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    HelloImRex Contributing Member

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    Win some lose some. I'm sure he/she knew it was a joke even if it wasn't funny. I did forget the two week thing though so sorry about that.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    No worries, it just hit me wrong. :)
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    I don't think that the non-science person would have more trouble with "Higgs field" than "field of mass"--they're not going to directly understand either of them, so you may as well keep the "local color" vibe of the proper name.

    Of course, that assumes that your science fiction world stems from our world with our world's history--it assumes that Peter Higgs existed and did the same work. If you're creating a new world from scratch, then you will need another name.

    I think that whether you explain things depends on how important that thing is to your plot. If you're just talking about, or the characters are just using, some invention that happens to exist and that stems from the science, then I think that you may figure out how it theoretically works, but you don't give any more detail than the novel requires, which may mean no detail at all.

    It's not as if a novel where someone gets into a car usually includes someone saying, "As you know, this wheeled vehicle is powered by something called an internal combustion engine, which is an engine that produces power through controlled combustion..." If the car just exists for transportation, its working is not discussed. If some element of it is relevant to the plot, you might touch on it. (My Cousin Vinnie: "You can't make those marks without positraction, which was not available on the '64 Buick Skylark...")

    However, if the science is at the core of your novel, then you MAY need to figure out how to explain it to your readers. Or you may not. If you're just assuming that time travel exists and figuring out how society deals with it, you may not need to present any of that in much detail--you may just need to present some rules that give the reader the illusion that they're getting science. (Terminator: "Nothing dead can go.") On the other hand, if the core of the novel makes no sense without some detailing of the science (like the orbital oddities that meant that the planet in Nightfall had not seen darkness since the beginning of the current civilization) you may need to explain.

    So my answer, summarized, is: "It depends."
     
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  10. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you should always be accurate, explain what needs to be explained, and not lie. It will also depend on the audience. I don't read a lot of sci fi, but I used to enjoy Michael Crichton's books -- I thought he did a good job explaining the relevant science to the non-scientist, while not getting overly technical.
     
  11. TheClassified
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    Thank you for your answers. I'm looking forward to post something I wrote so that you understand where I want to go.

    Well, I'm a bit finical about certain things, so I guess you are right. I don't like approximations, because they always imply that you omit details.

    That's a good idea, but it doesn't fit in the project I currently have. Did you know that Spongebob is very scientific as well? It's written by a marine biologist. So that's a great example in my opinion, because it pleases many people but someone who works in that particular field sees a lot of easter eggs.
    That might a good way to use in my particular project. Even though it's pretty hard to use in many stories, because as you said, many ideas need to be known to the reader at the beginning.

    But by describing the future without science, it's not science fiction.
    I tend to stick at the current science, and their limits, and want to write beyond those limits. Such as the black hole in Interstellar. We know that there are black holes, we know that they have certain effects, but we have no idea how the singularity looks like. And they used that fact to create a singularity. So if I don't stick to the current science and just create a black hole that won't fit in the rest, it's quite bad.

    That's my struggle...

    And I guess the solution haha

    That's part of my struggle. I'm not sure how much I can simplify science in order to reach the reader but stay correct.

    That's true, but even though there has never been a Peter Higgs, the idea of such a field can still be in the novel, and by using his name it's easier to introduce such a concept than defining it from scratch on. But in my case, I stay with the actual world and just develop it a bit further.

    Yes, it is the core of my novel.
     
  12. Megalith
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    Megalith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am having this same issue on one of my other stories. If you are having to tell too much technical detail to get a point across than you might need to add some story. develop other things first and let some of that info dribble their, so when you get to that part of the story you don't have to explain as much.
     
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  13. GingerCoffee
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    My question is where does explaining the science fit into the story? I write then edit and edit, like a lot of writers. One of the things I frequently find myself cutting when I edit are a lot of the explanations.

    For example I just cut out an explanation of not sharing a drinking glass which involved avoiding germs and instead just said, it wasn't done. Why it wasn't done didn't advance the story, the story event was the character who didn't normally share drinking glasses accepting the water bag that was being passed around from mouth to mouth.
     
  14. TheClassified
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    I think that it is best to ask a beta reader (are they called beta reader?) of your work. You are too familiarised with the concepts, that you might cut too many explanations, or think that the topic is so hard, that you might add too many explanations. A second pair of eyes can explain you, if he understood the concepts correctly, or if he is bored by the science in your book.
    I see an easy way in my particular project, because the protagonists needs to solve certain problems, and the read slowly learns the details/science as he proceeds to solve them, but not every book has this flow.
     
  15. plothog
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    How much Hard Science Fiction have you read? Reading other peoples works can give you an idea how to integrate science and story.

    The hard end of hard sci-fi from the likes of Greg Egan tends to get rather technical and isn't targeted at High School Math Haters.
    How you approach things depends a bit on how much you want to write for a more mainstream audience.

    I suspect you can structure your story such that the reader doesn't need to know all that much of the science at the start and it can be drip fed throughout.
    Beware starting with a big info dump. That's generally considered an amateur mistake.

    One trick can be to have laypeople who need to quickly know what's happening. The scientists can make it clear that they're giving a simplified approximation of the real science.
     
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  16. GingerCoffee
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    If solving the science is part of the plot, then definitely you'll need some science in the story. :) Just keep that move-the-plot-forward guideline in mind and it will guide you.

    As for technical science for the lay person, I'd lean toward language that's part of the common discourse.
    Quantum
    Entanglement
    Higgs-Boson
    Ion Drive

    Words like those are common enough that readers of hard sci-fi don't need a particle physics education to get the gist. I recommend you take a look at the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons. He uses all sorts of fictional terminology that hints enough at the science one need not understand it perfectly to follow the story.
     
  17. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You should keep in mind that some sci-fi readers have advanced degrees in science and/or know a lot about it, so if you explain too much, it'll be easier for them to find mistakes in your logic. Sometimes it's best to just keep it simple and not go into too much detail.

    I know there are a few members here who have advanced degrees in science and love to read sci-fi. Maybe they'll chime in at some point.
     
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  18. GingerCoffee
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    I think that's a good point, @thirdwind. There are risks in saying too much.
     
  19. TheClassified
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    Thank you, I'll keep it in mind!

    Not enough...


    I'll have a look, thank you!

    That's true, but as I mentioned above, I want to rely on the current science and develop new things that haven't been found, yet. Such as dark energy, dark matter. We know it exists, we have an idea how it should work (at least a bit for dark matter...) but nothing more. And by picking up such a concept, and developing it further, the chance is bigger that someone disagrees with my imagination, than with a physical fact. And there is one problem, that for some things it's best if the reader has background knowledge.

    It seems like it's not that easy to balance science...
     

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