As science writers, we work hard to snag readers and keep them reading. But there are writers out there whose examples can help us but go ignored because they write in what some disdainfully calls "genre." We're talking thrillers, mysteries, adventure, romance, police novels, sci-fi, historical fiction. There's a reason why Patrick O'Brian, Jack Patterson, Ray Bradbury, and Anne Perry have sold millions of books: The best of them have developed narrative methods and techniques — call 'em tricks if it makes you feel better — that quicken readers' attention, efficiently establish scene and character, and move narrative at whatever speeds best suits the story. Some are downright innovative. We science writers face the same problems. How do we switch between narrative strands? How do we lay down one strand so it can be picked up easily later? How do we jump from one time to another, embed exposition within scene, or describe natural forces? How can we solve the problem that tormented Chekhov, that of getting someone in and out of a room? In this workshoppy session, David Dobbs (secret passions: detective novels, Elmore Leonard, and the Aubrey-Maturin series) and Maryn McKenna (mystery writers Dorothy Sayers and Anne Perry, and YA fantasy authors you've never heard of) will unpick how these tricks work and how you can use them too. Maryn McKenna is a columnist for Scientific American and the author of Superbug and Beating Back the Devil. David Dobbs freelances for the New York Times, National Geographic, Nature, and other outlets and is writing his fifth book, The Orchid and the Dandelion. Their blogs, Superbug and Neuron Culture, are both at Wired.
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