On Writing: Culture Looks Down On These Novels, But You Should Read Them Anyway

Excerpted from a “science scribe” live sketch of our Science Online session. c. Perrin Ireland (@experrinment)

Dropping out of scary diseases and scary food for a moment, and into the (more) personal: This past weekend I spoke at Science Online, a fantastic conference in the Triangle area of North Carolina that brings together the different tribes of science communication — journalists, bloggers, scientists, public information officers, museum curators, videographers and audio artists, on and on — for an adrenaline- and coffee-fueled weekend of brainstorming.

SciO, as it’s called, has been going for seven years; I’ve attended for three, speaking each time on some aspect of writing technique. I love going, even though journalists are a minor tribe within the conference’s loose federation, because attending forces me to think not only about why I write, but about how. The process of writing is something I engage with every day, of course, but I’m not often called on to articulate it outside my own head. Prepping presentations for the heterogenous attendees reminds me to examine attitudes and also techniques that I tend to take for granted.

This year, my Wired colleague and friend David Dobbs, from Neuron Culture over there in the right rail, did a storytelling-technique session that turned out to be really well-received, so I thought I’d reproduce it here for wider sharing. We started from this realization: When we learn to write, we’re told to study the greats. But under our noses — sold in airports and drug stores, argued over in blogs and book clubs — there exists a vast and separate world of published writing to which people are passionately attached. That’s genre fiction — mysteries, thrillers, westerns, romances, fantasy and sci-fi — and it keeps its audiences hungering for more via specific techniques that writers can analyze and learn from.

Our session wasn’t recorded (I should really remember to do that when I speak) but you can find the excerpts we discussed on this wiki page. And here’s a recap, via Storify: “What science writing can learn from crap novels.” We say that, of course, with love.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *