Sunday, September 12, 2010

Building Paranormal Worlds isn't Rocket Science. Or is it?

Writers of speculative fiction strive to create rich worlds of the fantastic, but believable. The closer you stay within the boundaries set by the laws of physics, the more believable your worlds will be. You can always bend the rules a little. The scientists are.

So you want to write a fantasy, paranormal or a SciFi novel? Do you need to go out and get a degree in quantum physics or a working knowledge of Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, or James Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory? Your story has a space ship. Hmmm. Then I guess you should understand rocket propulsion or try to come up with a possible futuristic method to make your rocket go fast. How about antimatter? Every elementary particle has its corresponding antimatter mate. When the two come into contact, they completely annihilate each other. The result is a pure energy boost—propulsion. That could work for a space ship of the future, you think?

Adding SCIENCE to you spec fiction will make it believable, right? Isaac Asimov did it. How much science to do you need? How about working some Quantum Physics into your novel? Quantum physics talks about the origin of matter (extremely over simplified). Is the fundamental particle of matter the atom? Or is matter infinitely divisible into smaller and smaller bits? And then there’s the String Theory. It states that the fundamental particles are tiny vibrating strings. There are at least five different theories on this, and the ‘M’-Theory or Membrane theory and the mathematics needed to prove these theories are either so complex that hardly anyone understands them or the mathematics haven’t even been developed yet!

Yikes! Do you really want to get that geeky in your story? Forget about it. Technical details are fine, but don't go overboard. Your readers’ eyes will glaze over.
Oh, and then there are these guys—scientists—the brainy ones who are so smart they exist on a different plane (or dimension) than the rest of us. They’ve set out to take on Einstein’s theory of relativity and change the laws of nature. So what goes up, doesn’t necessarily come down. No kidding. Don’t you love rule breakers, especially those who can warp the laws of nature? And prove it? Max Planck and his work on gravity is doing just that.
Establish rules for your world and don't break them (unless you have a very good reason.)

I was at a writer’s conference and a gentleman mentioned he wrote a book about the origins of God and the universe using the theories of quantum physics but said he thought he’d bore me with it. I asked him if he based his book on the big bang theory, bubble universes or the void. His jaw dropped.

Do you get the feeling I’m a bit of a science geek? A little. Science is my field of study and I’ve worked in a variety of laboratories—research and development and medical for more years than I’ll admit. I’ve also been a Science Fiction reader since I was a kid. And a Sci Fi book club member for years. So this background helps me somewhat when I craft my paranormal stories. I also do research for that “flavor” in my books and for my own warped curiosity. I’ve referred to books on Mythology and Folklore and I also have two books on Quantum Physics. “Quantum, A Guide for the Perplexed” by Jim Al-Khalili. And “Patterns In The Void” by Sten F. Odenwald.

Both are easy to read even if you’re not a science geek. Recommended reads if it's your kind of thing. A cure for insomnia if you try to read more than a couple chapters at a time. No, you don't need to go crazy with long drawn out details in you spec fiction novels. Sometimes using words or phrases found in these research books and understanding a basic background is enough to “flavor” your story to give it the richness you’re looking for, without going overboard and making your readers yawn. Crafting speculative, paranormal and fantasy fiction doesn’t take a lot of rocket science but a little research and geekiness does help. Or just let your imagination take flight.

On September 15th I'll be celebrating the release of my Erotic SciFi novella: DRAGON WITCH at Ellora's Cave A little sci fi, fantasy and very sexy!


Taryn Kincaid said...

I am a big believer in "just make things up"! As long as you stay logical within the world you've built, the real world can take a hike.

Kathy Kulig said...

LOL I agree Taryn. If you create your own rules then you should stick to them. Or you lose that sense of believability and logic.

claudia celestial girl said...

I do think an author should do their homework - just as you would if you were writing an historical, steampunk, or creating a contemporary setting in a city like Los Angeles. All readers like to learn a little something. Taking a science fact, and making it relevant is your job as a writer. And especially if you have a little science fiction in your story, you should make an attempt to know/learn something relevant from the world of computers, IT, informatics, engines, and/or something technical! Even mathematical analysis of the stock market unite some contemporary ideas that are important to 'get.' [see The Quants, but Scott Petersen, for example]. It adds credibility to what you're writing, and grounds it. No need to get carried away, of course!

BTW - a book I recommend for the lay person on cosmology and physics is: Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel [Paperback]
Michio Kaku (Author)

Also: PSIence: How New Discoveries in Quantum Physics and New Science May Explain the Existence of Paranormal Phenomena [Paperback]
Marie D. Jones (Author)

May as well add: The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It [Hardcover]
Scott Patterson (Author)

I am a genuine working scientist - and creative writer! So I don't make these recommendations lightly. I think both of top two authors go a long way toward making (selected) science concepts accessible to the average person. Scott Patersons book is a little dense for me, but I still have it on my list of resource books - trying to get the jargon right, and understand a little more math.

good luck!