White cis man, in his mid 50s, with dark hair in an open collar shirt and jacket.


John W. Farrell is the author of The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaître, Einstein and the Birth of Modern Cosmology from Basic Books, and The Clock and the Camshaft: And Other Medieval Inventions We Still Can’t Live Without, just out from Prometheus Books.

A graduate of Harvard College with a B.A. in English and American Literature, Farrell has written for Commonweal, Aeon, Skeptic, Cosmos Magazine, New Scientist, The Wall Street Journal, The GuardianThe Boston Globe, Salon, Forbes, and The Tablet of London. His fiction has appeared in Dappled Things, his poetry in Penwood Review and First Things, and he is a longstanding member of Boston’s creative writing community at Grub Street.

SESSION: When Science Is Your Main Character

In an increasingly science-suspicious world, many writers want to incorporate scientific material into their fiction. But doing so presents some unique challenges.

In this session, we'll discuss approaches to writing fiction about science. How—in a fictional world—might we adhere to scientific fact? How can we make science central to our novels' conditions and conflict? How can we make the science work in the plot without it seeming like dull exposition? We'll examine excerpts from writers like Delia Owens, Andrea Barrett, Ted Chiang, and N.K. Jemisin to discover the choices they've made in diction, exposition, and science-as-plot-point. Considering the nation’s recent experience, we'll discuss the widespread resistance to vaccination as well as the resistance of some in the dominant culture to the experience of LGBTQ+ people in light of what science reveals about human sexuality. We will explore how these might be developed as a challenge or obstacle to be considered in narrative. Climate change is also a greater factor in the everyday lives of people and cannot be ignored without consequence. This session will be especially useful for anyone writing about characters who are scientists or researchers—or characters fighting resistance to facts that pose a threat to their lives or those of their loved ones.

CO-PRESENTER: Rebecca Bratten Weiss