Ship in a bottle
I have new science blog post up and ready over at fionamcmillan.com.
It’s a story about the unexpected consequences of losing your grip: when human ancestors began to walk upright, the infants slowly lost their ability to hold onto their mothers and this may have set us on the path toward language and bigger brains. I was fascinated by the hypothesis and I thought it would be a straightforward story to write, but the more I researched the more complex the story became. This was at once wonderful and frustrating. There was so much interesting science that it was difficult to include every angle without ending up with an unreadable deluge of facts. For all that I loved the topic, I almost gave up on the story several times; it was such hard work finding and holding onto the story arc. I guess you could say I lost my grip a bit.
I then remembered a wonderful piece of advice from science writer Carl Zimmer who wrote about his early days as a journalist, and how – at first – he’d try to painstakingly build these incredibly complex stories; each one like a ship in a bottle. But the problem with that approach is that there is often too much information to include and if you want to tell a good story, in addition to deciding what to put in, you also have to decide what to leave out. He explains in more detail here: “Don’t Make a Ship in a Bottle” by Carl Zimmer.
And so, I got back to work. It was a learning process, figuring out which research served the story and which didn’t. There were heaps of random facts that I’d stumbled across and just loved and wanted to share, but when these were included in the story they made it dense and difficult to follow. Sometimes, you just have to say ‘OK, that can be in a story, just not this story’.
It seemed to work.
I made it through, and here is the result: