What a treat to host Katie Slivensky today. I cannot wait to read her debut novel, The Countdown Conspiracy (HarperCollins Children’s). She combines her love of science with her love of writing in this middle grade action adventure — I’ll turn it over to her so she can tell you how!
I always strive to have the science behind my novels be as realistic as possible. In order to write THE COUNTDOWN CONSPIRACY, I spent years researching spaceflight, interviewing rocket scientists, and even traveled to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for a facility tour. This has paid off! Reviewers have particularly appreciated the science in my science fiction debut, which has been a fun surprise. So for this blog post, I’ve decided to share my Top 6 Tips for writing realistic science into your novels:
6. This might sound obvious, but if you’re going to write a story that needs a lot of research, you’d better make it about something you’re personally interested in. Straight out of the gate, you need to be honest with yourself. Does the topic excite you? Can you see yourself pouring hundreds of hours into furthering your understanding of the topic? If not, you can still write the book, but it’s not going to sing as much as if you are truly in love with your underlying topic, and you’ll be much more likely to get a bunch of stuff wrong.
5. Scientists have specialties! A biologist will likely not be able to speak with any authority about astrophysics. That said, there are a lot of crossover disciplines, so you can wiggle around some of that with some carefully laid character backgrounds. But be careful, and try to avoid the stereotypical “nerd who knows everything” character.
4. Jargon is real, but also super easy to get wrong. When in doubt, avoid the jargon. If your characters are using words you don’t understand, that’s a good sign that you shouldn’t be including those words.
3. Science changes. What you learned in school is likely outdated. You have to research what current science says about your topic. You can do much of this research online—really! Of course, be wary of clickbait sites and articles that do not cite their sources. Otherwise, my best advice is always to follow the sources as far back as you can. Despite its reputation, Wikipedia is a perfectly fine place to start—just be sure to click through the citations and confirm your understanding with the original sources (you can find these at the bottom of articles). Your local librarian can also help you find up-to-date sources of information!
2. See as much as you can in person. Does your story rely on artifacts, locations, or technologies you aren’t familiar with? Become familiar! Get as close to those things as you can. Touch them if possible. Smell them. And take pictures to bring home for later reference!
1. Talk. To. Experts. Get STEM professionals to read your manuscript and suggest improvements. Interview people. Run your initial plot ideas past scientists who know what they’re talking about, before you even start writing. At first I was scared to show experts my ideas, for fear that they would tell me they were impossible and my story would have to be thrown out—but instead, every person I’ve spoken to has been nothing but enthusiastic. And, in a fun twist, each scientist and engineer has actually given me ideas for even more grandiose plot elements than I could’ve ever dreamed up myself!
I hope this advice helps some of you as you explore including science in your writing. Thanks so much for having me, Kirby!
Katie Slivensky is a science educator at the Museum of Science in Boston, where she coordinates school visits, does presentations with alligators and liquid nitrogen (not usually at the same time), and runs the rooftop observatory program. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Check out her website: www.katieslivensky.com; her FaceBook page: @AuthorKatieSlivensky or follow her on Twitter: @paleopaws