Write Like a Scientist

Hi everyone! Today I’m writing (mostly) about science fiction – probably my second favorite genre. Roughly half of the stories I write are science fiction, and the ones that aren’t usually contain allusions to it. I’m sure all science fiction authors write differently, but there is one thing they have in common: they all think like scientists.

Actually, all writers do this. But for the purpose of this analogy, I want to talk about science fiction first. How do you think Einstein came up with the theory of relativity? How do you think Newton discovered the laws of gravity? How do you think Copernicus theorized that the earth revolved around the sun?


They all asked questions. Questions nobody had thought to ask yet. And they set out to answer them. That’s what we, as writers, should strive to do. Ask questions that nobody has ever asked, questions that people don’t even think to ask. And then answer them. For example, have you ever wondered why there are twelve numbers on the clock? Yeah, me neither. Not until I started writing. I currently have three books to answer the question, and I plan on writing even more. I can’t tell you anything else about it, because SPOILERS.

Back to science fiction. To write good science fiction, you must first think like a scientist and then quickly leave your scientist persona behind, unless you want realistic science fiction, in which case you should consider being an actual scientist. Consider the famous hyperdrive of the Star Wars universe. What is a hyperdrive? We know basically two things about it: It allows you to travel at light speed, and it malfunctions pretty much every time someone tries to use it. Obviously, I don’t know how George Lucas invented it, but I’m willing to bet he asked a question. Maybe the question was something along the lines of, “What if you could travel at the speed of light? What could enable someone to do that?”

If you write any sort of speculative fiction, you basically get to rewrite the rules of the universe. Many times this involves traveling at impossibly high speeds, time traveling (my favorite), or parallel worlds. But in order to do it well, you have to write like a scientist. Ask yourself lots and lots of questions. Instead of performing experiments to answer them, you must write a book. When I was thirteen, I invented another element for the periodic table. I had lots of questions but knew nothing about it, so I eavesdropped on some chemists in the story I was writing, and I overheard everything they said about it. Then later, I (stupidly) decided to play with said element, and I discovered to my horror that if you touch it, it instantly sends you to another dimension. (Don’t worry, I kept writing like a scientist and eventually figured out a way to get back.)

Now I know that some writers don’t like figuring things out as they go. Some writers like to know everything before they even write page one. I say, good for you, because knowing too much will stump my creativity. But if you’re a planner, you still need to write like a scientist. The only difference is that you answer all or most of your questions before the story’s written.

Writing like a scientist isn’t just for science fiction writers, obviously. If you’re a writer at all, you have to ask questions. It doesn’t matter what you write… you could be writing Harry Potter fanfiction set in ancient Greece with vampires for all I care, but you would still ask questions and seek answers (for example, why on earth are vampires roaming ancient Greece?)

If I’ve learned anything about scientists, it’s that 1) they’re constantly asking questions, 2) they do repetitive experiments to test their hypotheses, 3) they are insanely passionate and knowledgeable in their area of expertise, and 4) they’re often slightly crazy. As writers, we are exactly the same. We are constantly asking questions about our stories. And it’s a sad truth that writing requires repetitive experimentation until we get it exactly right. And I haven’t yet met a writer who isn’t passionate about it and who isn’t knowledgeable when it comes to their favorite genres. And, let’s face it, we’re insane.

So basically, write like a scientist. Ask questions. Seek answers. Observe. Take your time travel pod back in time to see what the Middle Ages were like. Or, better yet, create a time paradox just to see what happens.

What’s your favorite sci-fi story?

Are you a scientist when it comes to writing? (If you’re an actual scientist that would be awesome too.)