Science writers — why you need to think like a novelist

Mo Harber-Lamond
30 October 2013

Working on a piece of science writing? Faber Academy Writing a Novel student Igor explains how story structures might be the doorway to convincing fact as well as compelling fiction.

  • Hone your idea
  • Plan your plot
  • Bring your characters to life
Writing a Novel: the first 15,000 online course

As a part of my day job as an academic physician I recently had to write a research proposal for an intramural grant.  The proposal was to conduct a study of the links between diabetes mellitus Type 2 and colon cancer (the former was shown to increase the risk for the latter).

As I was writing the proposal, I started to see that it had a three-act structure, just like the novel I’ve been working on in my online writing course.

Act One was the introductory background; a summary of the most recent scientific literature findings about the topic of my proposed research.

Then, I had to write a hypothesis and list specific aims of the project. This was similar to asking a story question at the beginning of a novel and defining the goal of a protagonist.

I then had to propose a design for the study itself – the experiment. This took the form of Act Two: the meat of the story in which the protagonist has to act to overcome various obstacles on his or her way to the goal.

Act Three of my proposal was about the study results. This differs from Act Three in a novel – in research Act Three is written by Mother Nature and She does not always let you read it. However if you manage to wrestle the book from Her hands, you get to transcribe Act Three in a scientific paper.

Then, just like in the publishing industry, the editor of a scientific journal has to like the entire story or he or she won’t publish it.

Writing a Novel: the first 15,000 online course

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