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April 24, 2017
By Betty Kelly Sargent
Editor Betty Kelly Sargent answers writing questions submitted by readers. This month, she tackles how to seamlessly weave scientific information into a novel.

Dear Editor:

When writing a medical-linked novel, how much scientific background should one give to readers? What are the warning signs that one has gone too far in explaining scientific material? My question refers specifically to toxic nanoparticles in cosmetics.
—Sean Hillen

By all means, explain what nanoparticles are and how they can seriously damage our health, even cause cancer—but keep your language clear, keep the prose engaging, and keep the plot moving. The trick is to weave this information seamlessly into the story. Perhaps you could mention some key facts in dialogue between two of your characters, or have one of your characters cite a recent study about the prevalence of toxic nanoparticles in cosmetics and how shocking it is that the FDA doesn’t even require manufacturers to identify their presence on the label of the package. Also, be sure to avoid technical words that the lay reader will not understand.

From my quick research on nanoparticles, it seems to me that the problem is that because they are so tiny (line up 10,000 of them to get the width of a hair), they easily pass through the human skin barrier, get into circulation systems, and cause havoc in unsuspecting victims. I had never even heard of a nanoparticle and had no idea that they could do so much harm. By exploring and explaining nanoparticles in your medical novel, you will not only be entertaining your readers: you will also be performing a public service by educating them on the extreme dangers of this increasingly prevalent potential threat.

If you have a question for the editor, email Betty Sargent at


Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks.