Note: This is from a guest post on writehacked.com, you can see the original post here.
Over at sillyrobots.wordpress.com we have a saying:
Well not really, but I like to think we do…or something like that.
Anyway…I’m a writer like most of you. I write mostly science fiction short stories, but I have written a crappy novel as well. It’s fun, but also a lot of work. There’s the planning and the writing and the editing and all that stuff.
But before all of that is my favorite part:
And everybody said, “UGH!”
How can research be fun?!
I’m so glad you asked.
When I was in college, I spent several afternoons in a lab watching particles settle, measuring differences in mass after reactions, and reading journal articles detailing what other people had discovered.
But now I write Sci Fi so I don’t do that anymore. What I do…do…is read and watch a LOT of Science Fiction. I had a pretty good head start on this research thing, due to my avid fanboy status for most of my life, but jumping in is not that hard.
1. Watching Sci Fi
This may sound silly, but if you can’t visualize anything fantastical how will it get to the paper? Watching Science Fiction is a good way to see things, and understand how to describe your own ideas.
Let’s start with Battlestar Galactica. There are Vipers, Battlestars, Basestars, and Raiders just to name a few space vehicles. All of them do different things and have a different look. They draw on strengths of their operators, and strike different emotions into all who survey them.
If you have a universe whose inhabitants are at war and reliant on spacecraft, Galactica is a great place to get a feel for different vehicles.
Or maybe you need to understand how an ensemble cast will interact on a ship for long periods of time. Star Trek, Firefly, and again Battlestar Galactica could be helpful. (I swear I’m not a Galactica fan boy, it just keeps coming up.)
What about individual characters in Sci Fi? The Movie “Moon” starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey (and pretty much only Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey) is a great example of individual problems in a Science Fiction setting. Likewise, “Equilibrium” starring Christian Bale examines an individual crisis in the midst of dystopian bliss.
All of these things can translate into your brain and thus into your story. But it may take several hours of watching fantastic television. Such a task. Sigh.
2. Reading Sci Fi
No brainer for authors right?
What you read in the genre will define your voice in the genre. I tend to move my stories along with dialogue. Much like the giant box of comic books in my house. John Scalzi gives credit to Robert Heinlein for his writing style in the credits of his book ‘Old Man’s War’.
So who is your hero? Or heroes? Heroines?
You won’t know until you read.
Reading authors in other genres helps too; I’m sure Jules Verne had little to go on in the way of Sci Fi when he was writing. I enjoyed Nick’s novel, which is one of a few thrillers I’ve read in the past year, and I read several other non-fiction books as well.
Comic books are also an unsung resource for Sci Fi research. Many of the writers have written longer forms of fiction, and their voice comes through in both mediums. Joss Whedon is a writer who is very good at moving in between several forms of writing and keeping a similar voice.
Just remember that the more you read, the more you realize how others write. That will lead you down a path to finding your own voice.
3. Actual Scientific Research
Ok so I lied.
I do sometimes do actual scientific research. I try to read everything I can about robotics, flight, stealth technology, and other sciency wiencey things. I recently read an article about storing information within DNA. When I was in college I wrote several papers on urban agriculture, giving me a good idea of how people would garden on a space ship. I also enjoy watching NOVA and other science information programs like it.
Well there you have it. Just a few things that I do when researching for writing Sci Fi. Try them out and see if you get any results. I’ll be honest, step 1 is my favorite. My week consists of many hours of ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ right now. I read a quote one time (and I can’t find it again!) that said something to the effect of “…if you cut a science fiction fan you will find a science fiction writer…” I hold that to be true. I have never met someone who was a fan that did not have at least one idea for a story. So if I’m a huge fan, maybe I’ll have lots of ideas for stories.
And maybe you will too.
“Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it’s the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself. …Science fiction is central to everything we’ve ever done, and people who make fun of science fiction writers don’t know what they’re talking about.”
― Ray Bradbury