The Philosophy of Science & Logic and the Steampunk Writer – Part One

Warning Science Ahead

When writing Steampunk narrative, it improves the quality of your prose if you understand some of the philosophy behind rational, scientific thinking. Contrary to expectations, rational thinking and science do not oppose poetry and lyrical prose. Most poetry follows quite a rigid set of rules; I recommend Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled and it supports my assertion. Most novels have quite a complex structure, even if you can’t spot it as easily as in the Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (nesting dolls). Prose depends on the underlying structures of the sentence and the flowers of rhetoric. All of these literary structures are to provide clarity while at the same time boosting the aesthetic quality of the texts. If Beauty is Truth, then science and rationality can be very beautiful.

Rocket for SCIENCE

So, today, let’s look at the some of the skills needed to think logically and rationally. These are skills that should help you develop a plot without plot-holes.

The Either/Or Fallacy:

In Western culture, we have a bad habit of seeing everything as a binary opposite: it’s black and white; you’re either with me or you’re against me; it’s my way or the highway. Real life has more shades, and not just of grey. When writing a Steampunk novel, unless it is for very young children, the good girls should have their flaws and the bad girls should have their virtues.

Reality is for those who can't handle Science Fiction

The Side Issue:

It is best to avoid having a side issue to derail the actual aim of a course of action or an argument in your narrative. Politicians favour this strategy, deflecting a question onto a different topic that really doesn’t answer the question. When writing, don’t let too many side issues take the impetus from the main thrust of the plot, unless your putting in red herrings to a mystery. A side journey should always lead back to the main storyline.

Science = Magic without the lies.

Questioning Everything: 

Don’t assume your reader knows all the details of the science you are supplying. Don’t assume you know all the details, unless you’ve done a lot of careful research. Science is all about never assuming you know all the facts, and comes with the expectation that there is always something new to discover. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has dozens of examples, but my favourite one is his constant questioning of idioms; for example ‘getting on like a house on fire’ might mean people screaming and running away.

Bring Back Science

Cause and Effect: 

One of the main forces driving a plot along is cause and effect. This happened, and it caused this new event to occur. However, some writers can get confused about cause and effect, and make assumptions. Example: the tidal forces of moon controls the tides. The moon controls werewolves. Therefore, werewolves are controlled by the tidal forces of the moon. This may be true, but it is highly unlikely. Further investigation will be needed to find the real causes of any event.

Sweeping Generalisations: Everyone’s favourite sort of fallacy, because it is often mistaken for hyperbole. All women are bad at maths. All men are brutes. All cats are selfish. When you are writing, you have to be alert that you are not misrepresenting a fact because of generalisations. It is also lazy writing, as it can often create stereotypes of your characters. When making a statement, try to keep it accurate. Too many generalisation can build up within a plot to create contradictions, which will lead to plot-holes.

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3 Comments

Filed under Plot, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, writing

3 responses to “The Philosophy of Science & Logic and the Steampunk Writer – Part One

  1. Thanks for some interesting ideas on science in fiction.

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