Yep, I said it. Research. Oh the terror. Stacks of dry books and statistical, impossible to read data… Spending hours hounding through Google searches to find a single nugget of truth only to fall down a YouTube hole.
Stay Out of the Hole.
Research for a writer is what informs our writing. The information we gather makes our stories ring true, even when they aren’t, and helps readers to form an emotional attachment to our characters. All sorts of activities can be research as long as they’re being conducted with a single thought at the front of your mind: I am doing this to help strengthen my story.
Want your character to be a big fisherman? Go out and learn how to fish then try to catch a few. Watch films about people who fish (I suggest A River Runs Through It.) Find yourself knee deep in water with the sun reflecting back in your face. Experience it.
But, there are some things we simply cannot experience because of either our own limitations or those of space and time. It’s pretty darned impossible to experience traveling at light-speed to outrun intergalactic bounty hunters. Just saying. Because of the high technicality aspects of SF, it’s important for there to be at least some verifiable facts of the scientific sort, otherwise we’re just sort of wondering into the Speculative Fiction world and losing the “Science” part of Science Fiction.
In order for the novel to read as plausible and feel correct, I need to do boat load of research.
Well, maybe not a boat load, but there are a couple of topics where I should find myself at least half-way versed.
- I need to know for sure about the decomposition of a human body in space. I also need to decide what sort of environment the body is decomposing in.
- It’s best to know a little bit more about atomic structures, as well as what can or cannot stop a sub-atomic particle.
- I need to know exactly about the magnetic components of aluminum and if it can withstand direct radiation. It would probably be best to know it’s melting point as well.
- I’ll also need to find an alternative to radiation, as in a possible fume or other airborne substance, that can be contained by a magnetic field.
- Next, I need to decide if it’s even going to be a magnetic field or some alternative.
- I need to know about present day propulsion in regards to space travel and maybe even a little bit of the physics behind it.
- It’s probably a good idea for me to consider getting a solid understanding of present day robotics and their forward facing trends. Where will robotics be in 50 years?
- Lastly, I’ll need at least a basic understanding of how space works in regards to gravitational pulls, orbits, temperatures, and pressure. Lucky for me, a math genius and a professor of physics and astronomy are just a block down the street.
Where to Find Help?
You can go almost anywhere, but I prefer actual people, physical real ones, to learn from. So, I’ve been talking with a couple of classmates that are engineers and have a pretty strong understanding of how to make things work. There’s also a robotics group at Bucknell University, which is nearby, and some of the super brains there could probably help me understand where we stand at present in that field, as well as how to, in theory, make my sub-atomicly driven container bots work. I plan on doing as much research from actual people with experience as possible. I know, that’s a crazy idea. But that way I can ask questions and receive a fairly immediate response, read body language, and gain a better understanding. I think it’s important to live the experience, and if you can’t do that, find someone who has and ask them to teach you about it. I’m going to try to avoid the looking-it-up method, and if I have to go down that path, I’m staying away from Google and it’s idiocy. We have access to a college library here, there’s no reason to not use it.
Where to Use the Information?
It’s got to be subtle. My story is not about throwing numbers at people or technical readouts. So I’ve got to sneak it in and plan on using at several points throughout the story from the very beginning. Some of the research, such as the propulsion of the ships and robotics, is more for my own benefit. But, in scenes like when antagonist is introduced and the big scene when… Well, no spoilers. Let’s just say they will actual show some of the knowledge gathered. The subatomic particles are particularity important. They are key to my story and I must possess a very clear understanding of what they are and how they work since…. oopse. Almost did it again.
What I’m getting at with all this is: To know more about an aspect of your story, even if it’s not a real one, is better than going in blind. You’ll feel more believable to the reader and more confidence in yourself, all armed with knowledge. That strength can be armor against self-doubt and help you to produce your own best work.
Go slay that space dragon, Tiger!