Science Writing

The Sydney Writers Festival was a week of literary indulgence. You picked your favourite subjects, authors and journalists to go and see – providing tickets were available.

Science storytelling. It’s a unique genre discussed by a panel of science journalists; Alice Klein, Ivy Shih, Joel Werner and Michael Slezk.  Even within science, there are different forms of science media. Writing for radio has seen the rise of podcasts; the use of sound further colours the words. In film, sound is the equal of visuals. How will emerging technologies impact on the public’s engagement with science stories?

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New media will warrant a new way of thinking. Should science communication develop different mediums for science storytelling? And if so, can science fiction help? Perhaps a more emotional approach should be considered as opposed to evidence-based science storytelling. To communicate a sense of wonder, feeling and excitement of a given moment, and to win the reader over by generating amazing stories. It’s a battle in science communication that will continue – a need to attract attention, yet maintain integrity. With the rise of science communication, media organisations should further cast a critical eye to ensure the integrity of a piece of writing. The referencing of scientific facts from original sources also combats audience skeptism.

News articles often trigger ideas and questions, it’s easier to look for a compelling story first and then look for the detail. But just how do you introduce the detail? It will no doubtedly vary for different media, journalists analysing where the research fits to communicate to the public. Attention grabbing headlines are often easier to sell. The challenge is to write from a laypersons understanding and to keep an eye on the story angle. Informing the reader about scientific methodologies and processes outlines the robust, credible work of scientists. Exploring laboratories and the field can further enrich a story. It’s a journalist’s excuse to travel to add an extra dimension to their story.

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The future of science journalism appears strained. Journalists are challenged as the media industry is in decline. Scientists transition from the laboratory to science communication fields. Writers practise writing blogs to build their publications and contacts. So what is the advice from the panel? Writers need to find opportunities to build their experience in a science writing community. Lateral Magazine is a good example. It caters for early science writers and is paid support. It offers writers the entire experience from pitching, to the editorial and revision processes. Perseverance is crucial.

Why we Read?

Why do we write and why do we read? Junot Díaz, Tara Westover, Glory Edim and Stuart Kells in conservation with Ashley Hay discussed their perspectives about literature and how books have shaped their lives. It’s ultimately about making stories and creating knowledge. Through reading and writing technologies, we can share our stories. Reading and writing are united – they generate ideas.

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We read for a diverse number of reasons. The book becomes a friend as reading exercises muscles of imagination. Our learning is self-directed. We read for reading, read for writing, read for nurturing and read for escapism. We entre a slow zone when we read, it is a technology that allows us to move at our natural speed. Do we need to understand what is a narrative arc or a point of view? The book allows us to sit quietly for a while and listen to what someone else has to say. To sit and listen to another point of view; it’s a slow and silent space.

The libraries of the future will undoubtedly change; they may not be such quiet spaces anymore. Will people continue to read? Ultimately, it is a development of habit. A lot of people still read – but they read in different ways. Will the screen and Internet become a big distraction for the future of books and libraries? Virtual books and libraries already exist; the technology for reading and writing will continue to evolve.

Battle of the illustrators

Finally for a bit of fun, I watched the battle of the illustrators. It was a tough gig. Different topics were selected from the young audience and then the illustrators had one minute to draw a cartoon story. From a unicorn in Fiji and a pony swimming to a ladybird watching TV and a dragon eating pasta.

Andrew Joyner was in for the game and came close to winning the competition. I went to watch his talk later in the day. He both writes and illustrates picture books, and over the past ten years has illustrated around 30 books. He looks for the stories in the pictures and draws digitally, spending time to get the right expressions on his characters. He never studied art, but gained practised in drawing comic books. Fortunately Andrew enjoys drawing animals, a common topic in the world of children’s books.

 

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