In the fall of 2011, I was invited to give The Vivian J. Lamb Lecture on Science and Religion at Villanova University. The text of my hour-long talk ran to more than 6,000 words, and as far as I know it was never published anywhere. I’ve been publishing it here in three parts; what follows is Part 2.
A friend of mine, an editor at Tor Science Fiction, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, once posted on her blog what she calls a “four-item formula” for writing fiction: 1. Move and keep moving. 2. Make it consequential. 3. Recycle your characters. 4. See if you already have one.
Move and keep moving. Tell the story you want to tell without shilly-shallying around. You may know that something really wonderful is coming up in chapter three, but your reader doesn’t unless you give them a taste of the cool stuff with a promise of more coming soon.
Of course you do then have an implicit promise to redeem: there really better be something cool coming up in chapter three.
You can’t move and keep moving unless there’s some place you are moving to; and you need to know where you’re trying to get to when you move. You don’t write a story without having some reason for writing it… a plot idea, or a character, or sometimes just a setting. Sometimes nothing more than a picture. Whatever it is, the opening of the story has to serve the reason you had for writing the story in the first place.
Make it consequential. Have later events be caused or motivated or shaped by earlier ones. Every causal or consequential link you can build into the story, Teresa says, is like “a steel cable holding your narrative together.” Or like the string holding together the rosary beads.
Recycle your characters. When you’re peopling later events, give preference to characters already used in earlier episodes.
See if you already have one. Whenever you need something new — prop, plot thread, setting, minor character — go back through the parts of the story you’ve already written and see whether you can find it there. It’s surprising how often the exact thing you need is already sitting there in plain sight.
Now, that’s about writing a story.
What about science? What is the scientific equivalent of “move and keep moving”?
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