Writing Craft: Research for the Win

The difference between good sci-fi and great science fiction

Image for post
Image for post
Sci-fi Art: Peter Oedekoven — LAX Freeway 101

Think about the future!

As writers of science fiction we are often asked to extrapolate the future. One of the reason I think science fiction has been recently suffering from a bad case of dystopia, is when writers try to predict the future, they are finding the pace of transformation between ideas and facts to be breathtaking.

In the past, when a writer wanted to create some new technology, they envisioned a need and a technology to get it. Then it would take centuries, scores, decades before such things fell into the realm of the possible.

Nowadays, a writer is lucky if she can get her book to press before someone announces a technology just like something she wrote about two years ago. To make matters worse, the discovery makes her work look dated and primitive.

Many a writer has decided it is easier to write fantasy than to try and extrapolate near-future science fiction.

I say to that idea: NAY!

One does not have to give up the field in the face of new science. Or even old science which has not been found to be false or in need of replacement because it still shows the universe to resemble our predictions, some what. Like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, for example.

What a writer should do is spend a bit of time doing some research. I know, who has time for that? 30,000 books are going to be written this year and I need mine to be one of them.

But research may take you where you might not have gone otherwise. It might allow you to take a good idea and make it better. You might be able to even base part of your idea in working science. This makes scientists feel special and engineers think you are almost cool enough to be one of them. Almost.

To be honest, I think research is one of the best reasons to be a science fiction writer. Look at how much about the world you end up learning just so you can create something completely new that doesn’t exist yet, but might, if you can inspire someone to believe it’s necessary.

Image for post
Image for post

So how does one do research?

  • Step One: Have a need. Meaning someone might think to themselves: I want to write about the internet in the future, for example.
  • Step Two: Realize that before you delve into creating an imaginary world (of which there is nothing wrong with doing…) maybe a bit of research into the actual topic you plan on creating on could give you some new ways to address the story you are envisioning.

Such as our example:

  • Science fiction often wants to talk about artificial intelligence spawning somewhere on the internet unexpectedly. For that to happen, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to know how much information the internet moves around at any one time. Or for that matter to know what the Internet is…
  • The Internet is vast collections of connected computers bound together by a series of networks; further those networks are networked together until this network of internet-networks has become a nearly planetary-experience of technology casually dubbed: The Internet.
  • Where the internet is: technically, it’s everywhere, but devices which originate it can be traced back to the DARPA military defense program. The software which maintains the Internet is found on thousands of computers around the globe and often referred to as: The Internet Backbone
  • How the internet transfers data: using a series of protocols, information is broken down into bits and collections, bytes, encoded and transmitted across a digital signalling network, having the data reinterpreted by technology, hardware and software and returned to a Human usable format.
  • How long does it take for information to be encoded and decoded: Computers are now so sophisticated the transfer of data can be done in real-time, allowing teleconferencing, remote access and even remote control of digital devices.

All of this information can help in the telling of a story because often a story is not found in the entirety of a thing like the Internet, but in the pieces. An aspect or control or technology used presents the opportunity for a clever writer to tell a story.

Studying a thing does not always require an in-depth knowledge either. A slice of life, an alternative perspective, an amazing infographic, a clever writer creating a stimulating metaphor can also give you perspective on a subject, if you can find it…

A future development which the internet does not currently have could also lend itself to a new story idea as a writer corrects a vulnerability, introduces new hardware or software, or uses the ever-growing network in a completely novel manner.

Suffice it to say, as writers, taking the time to know about how something works can sometimes be a burden (especially if you’re on a deadline) but most times, an honest investigation, even a cursory one, can lend itself to the consideration of stories you never even knew were there.

Image for post
Image for post
How much data moves on the Internet in one minute? — http://www.domo.com

Here are some more outstanding facts about the Internet just to keep you on your toes with an associated scale of technical difficulty (ranked 1 to 10 — with 1: as easy as it can be and 10: only professionals and dragon-slayers should tread here)

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. Please follow me on Twitter or support my writing on Patreon.

Written by

Author | Editor | Futurist | Activist | http://bit.ly/thowzebio | http://bit.ly/thpatreon

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store