Of Protons, Neutrons, and Shrodinger’s Cat

How much is enough?  And how much is too much?  These are questions every writer must wrestle with at some point or another.

Let’s say an idea strikes.  It hits you, unannounced, perhaps as you’re walking the dog or lying half-asleep in bed, the sounds and silences of the night enveloping you like a warm, familiar blanket.  Maybe you’re out jogging or playing a tennis match.  Ideas are funny that way.  They often come at the oddest, most unexpected of times.

ideastikes

 

But this particular idea, this hypothetical kernel of excitement, also carries with it a hefty helping of intimidation.  Not so much due to the story itself, or the characters–they’re the aspects that are so exciting, after all.  No.  It’s the research.  The subject matter.  The amount of know-how that must be present to write about the topic intelligently.

research

 

“Write what you know,” is a maxim every writer is familiar with, and to a degree, it’s true.  We can only create from our point of view, from our own unique and perhaps even idiosyncratic vantage point of the world and the people who inhabit it.  But does that mean we can’t write about the past?  Bygone eras?  Or what about the future?

writewhatyouknow

 

What about “ghost girls” with swirling blue eyes who are able to pull four seventh-grade boys into a parallel dimension?

wirlingblue

 

Are these ideas somehow off-limits to us?  Of course not.  This is why the “write-what-you-know” edict can be constraining if applied too literally.  There is nowhere our imagination cannot take us.  No star is too far away.  No date too distant.  No world too remote.

distantstars

 

But what about the details of said world?  What about the nuts and bolts of the journey to that star?  How much actual history do we incorporate into our period-piece novel?  How much science do we put into our science fiction?

Admittedly, genre does play a part.  After all, it’s possible the plot of a historical novel will revolve around an actual event–perhaps the sinking of the Titanic or the First World War, or any of a number of a million other possibilities.  In such a case as this, the historical details are crucial to the flow and outcome of the story.

titanic

 

Even in the realm of science fiction, there are no hard-and-fast rules.  Some stories, by their design, their makeup, subject matter, and perhaps even intended audience, will be more technical in nature.  Whether we are dealing with a period-piece romance set in 19th-century France or a futuristic, galaxies-spanning epic, however, no fictional story can afford to get too bogged down in the minutiae of the subject matter.  A novel is not a textbook.

textbooks

 

But how much is too much?  Do we really need to do copious amounts of research?  Does an author need to be a subject-matter expert to be able to write adroitly about a particular topic?

Or can you get away with simply winging it?

As with so many things, I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

**************

When I wrote The Eye-Dancers, I realized early on that I had a challenge on my hands.  While there is a significant fantasy aspect to the story, I also intended to incorporate an element of pure science fiction, as well.  I didn’t want every otherworldly twist and turn to be nothing more than a product of the imagination.  After all, parallel-worlds theory is not merely relegated to the fictional.  There were some fundamental quantum-mechanics principles at play here.  The question was:  How to incorporate them into the fabric of the story?  And did I even know enough about quantum physics to attempt this?  I had always enjoyed a fascination with alternate universes, and had long dabbled in scientific literature.  I knew my protons from my neutrons and electrons!  But I was far from an expert.

protonneutron

 

So . . . I decided to read up on quantum physics.  I researched online and read a few books, making sure I at least had some understanding of the basics.  I learned much more on the topic than I would use in the novel–but that was by design.  I was more comfortable trying to pick and choose selectively from a base of knowledge as opposed to blindly groping for random, low-hanging quantum fruit.

lowhangingfruit

 

But I knew the quantum-physics aspect of The Eye-Dancers needed to be judiciously utilized.  The goal was to sprinkle it in and scatter it throughout the story like finely dispersed particles of stardust.  At no point did I want a reader to feel bogged down.  Rather, with hope, the quantum principles would enhance the story, make it more interesting, and attempt to give a (at least somewhat feasible) scientific rationale to a fantastic series of events.

stardust

 

One advantage I had was the character of Marc Kuslanski, the precocious science wiz.  Throughout the novel, it is Marc who gives voice to the quantum-physics possibilities.

For example, shortly after the boys arrive in the variant town of Colbyville, Marc, after a brief reference to Shrodinger’s Cat,  a quantum-mechanics thought paradox, explains the concept of parallel worlds . . .

“‘Everything in existence fits together,’ he said.  ‘The smallest subatomic particle, the worst hurricane, the largest whale, the layers upon layers of reality.  All of it.  And what quantum mechanics tells us is–there are infinitely multiple versions of each of us.  Infinitely multiple versions of our own earth.  You couldn’t even begin to count them all.”‘

parallelworlds

 

His logic-oriented views of the universe may not always be right.  But they serve as a counterpoint to, as well as a conceptual explanation of, the paranormal events he and the other protagonists endure.  In this way, Marc discusses the rational behind the irrational, the theoretical behind the random, the science behind the fantastic.  Some of his hypotheses, rigid as they are, unwilling to account for those phenomena beyond the purview of science, may not always be true.  But hopefully they provide an additional layer, an interesting nugget, to the plot.

nuggets

 

************

“A little learning is a dangerous thing,” British poet Alexander Pope once wrote.  And that may be the case, much of the time.  But for novelists, “a little learning” can be the difference between a believable story and one that doesn’t quite ring true.

Or, put another way:  There is always room for Erwin Schrodinger’s theoretical feline.

shrodingerscat

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lee
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 21:46:57

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, very interesting.

    Reply

  2. rustygarnersmith
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 23:58:38

    Nicely said! And out together very well. The photos really well thought out. I have more lessons to take from you. Thanks for the great post.

    Reply

  3. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Mar 01, 2015 @ 03:07:16

    I agree, Mike. World building needs enough fact to make the story plausible. It adds so much depth…and you explained your approach so well.

    Reply

  4. insearchofitall
    Mar 01, 2015 @ 03:11:00

    I like the premiss of write what you know but I think an equally good one is to write what you want to know or read. I have loved quantum physics for many years but my drift on it would be so different than yours. There is so much room to go so many ways with one subject. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing but no knowledge is so much more dangerous. Love the cat. It looks so cozy.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Mar 02, 2015 @ 19:02:34

      I couldn’t agree more about “write what you want to know or write what you read.” Writing just what you know would be much too limiting! And would eliminate so much fantasy and sci-fi . . . Always great hearing from you!

      Reply

  5. eemoxam
    Mar 01, 2015 @ 23:07:53

    Great post, I completely agree. I did a lot more research than I needed for my book as well, but it’s much easier to incorporate things when you know more than you need too. I am all for learning just enough to get by when it comes to writing, I don’t want to limit myself to things I already know about, that’s what libraries are for.

    Reply

  6. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Mar 02, 2015 @ 12:45:31

    Great post, Mike. I agree — the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

    Reply

  7. teagan geneviene
    Mar 02, 2015 @ 13:11:37

    Mike, I enjoyed this post, and having your perspective. I really get into my research… too much. But again, it’s because i enjoy it.
    However, i agree that it is necessary, no matter the genre. A while back an author shocked me by saying she never ever researches — anything. I wanted to run away screaming. LOL. Hugs. 😀

    Reply

  8. stockdalewolfe
    Mar 03, 2015 @ 03:29:59

    Science fiction allows you to theorize if you know enough on the topic and you did your research well so why not theorize!!

    Reply

  9. Sarah Potter Writes
    Mar 15, 2015 @ 14:56:47

    The beauty of research is that while you’re looking up something intentional, you are apt to stumble upon something unintentional, which then triggers further new ideas.

    Reply

  10. Sue Dreamwalker
    Mar 18, 2015 @ 20:08:26

    Your posts always hold Knowledge Mike, and a little sprinkle of Quantum physics Goes down nicely in my book Mike.. 🙂 And yes all affects the whole.
    And lovely to know you are doing great research to add to your writings Mike..
    Have an enjoyable day
    Sue

    Reply

  11. thefolia
    Aug 11, 2015 @ 16:13:59

    Sounds like a challenging yet intriguing subject to write about! Happy researching!

    Reply

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