Write for Science and Write for Fantasy

I am a scientist.

I have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, as well as a master’s and a doctorate in chemical oceanography. I earn my living as a postdoctoral researcher in a university. I perform experiments, write articles and interpret data. My current work is analytical and reasonable, full of logic and careful statements, testing hypotheses and being careful not to make any claims that cannot be supported by the literature or by my own results.

But I also write fantasy. My first novel, Intrepid, which was released on August 2, 2022, is a young adult Sapphic fantasy about teenagers traveling through a world plagued by scientific impossibility. The characters of Intrepid leap several feet in the air using magical armor, live in huge sprawling trees that no real rainforest could ever support, and battle beasts whose abilities range from extreme strength to becoming virtually invisible. It’s a crazy ride, very fun and not at all scientific.

Creative side projects are not uncommon in science

There aren’t many people in my personal life who know I do both. But when news about the book inevitably comes out, I often get people asking me how I can reconcile those two things. I have a day job that’s so grounded in reality that it’s literally trying to figure it out and quantify it, and when I’m not looking at spreadsheets and numbers and statistics and data points, when i’m not trying to sort out some nasty mass spectrometer refit or trying to figure out where midsize gloves have migrated to this time, i have my head in the clouds, dreaming of impossible things . I admit that, from the outside, these two things seem opposite. But curiously, the people least likely to ask me how the two worlds connect are other scientists.

When I started grad school, I thought I’d be the odd one out, but it turns out creative side projects aren’t uncommon in the science community. Same Naturein Forgotten Times in July 2019, compiled some of the creative projects tweeted by scholars working in various fields.

When I became a graduate student, I met colleagues who draw, sing, play a musical instrument, dance, write poetry, engage in sports, play Dungeons & Dragons Monday evenings. Even though not everyone had a visible creative outlet, I felt like I met more creative people in college than I met outside of it, and their reactions to finding out that I would be writing fantasy during my lunch breaks ranged from, “That’s so cool”, to “Can I read it?”, to “I’ve always wanted to write a book.

It seems that many of us, who work in numbers and in an environment full of rejection, failure and stress, need an outlet that allows our minds to soar.

How my writing helps my science

I can’t speak for everyone, and I’m afraid to make sweeping generalizations about the impact of creative pursuits on scientific endeavours, but I box speak freely about my personal experiences. And in my personal experiences, writing fantasy has been more than just a way to unwind after doing science. It helped me become a better scientist.

There is a surprising amount of writing involved in science. Although the scientific method is at the heart of what we do, no amount of data and results will mean anything if we cannot share those results with the scientific community, and ultimately with the rest of the world.

When I started writing my first article, I realized that this exercise – confronting a blank page, putting my thoughts on paper, changing sentences and choosing the right words for the right situations, was something I already knew. innately. I started writing at age eight, so the moment I started writing my first article, I felt like I was writing a story in a different style. Non-fiction instead of fiction, precision instead of imagination, but many of the skills were the same, and I can’t overstate how valuable that was to me.

I wasn’t intimidated by the length of my thesis, as I had taught myself how to write hundred-thousand-word stories since high school. I already had tips and tricks in place for breaking a large project into manageable chunks and motivating me to hit my word count goals. For my thesis, I wasn’t focusing so much on word count as on making sure that all aspects of my work were covered, but the principle was still the same.

In my opinion, believing that science is something completely separate from art actually harms the practice of science. Yes, we have to be precise and we have to be logical, but the science is not entirely clear cut. It takes creativity, both in deciding what to study next and in deciding how best to present the results. In this age of rampant misinformation, it is especially important that scientists learn how to make their science accessible to the general public, to make their science interesting and accessible again.


Intrepid by Elisa a.  Bonin.  Image: Swoon bed.
(Swoon reads)

A teenage girl must bring two shattered worlds together in order to save her nation in this lush Filipino-inspired young adult fantasy novel from first author Elisa A. Bonnin.

“Be fearless, for the hopes of the People rest in you.”

The world of Seri is defined by very clear rules: beasts roam the forest paths and hunt the People. The valiant explore the unknown world, slay beasts, and gain strength from the armor they craft from it. As an assistant to Eshai Unbroken, a valiant young commander with a near-mythical reputation, Seri has seen firsthand the struggle to keep the beasts at bay and ensure the safety of the trees that stretch where the people have elected residence. This was how it had always been, and how it always would be. Until the day Seri meets Tsana.

Tsana is, impossible, an alien from the unknown world who can communicate with beasts – a fact that causes Seri to begin to doubt everything she’s ever learned. As Seri and Tsana grow closer, their worlds begin to collide, with deadly consequences. Somehow, with the world on the brink of war, Seri will have to find a way to make peace.

Intrepid is available from bookstores.

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Scott R. Banks