Facts that Hurt


Not “Just” Facts: Information that Evokes Story

I’m in that shadowy world of researching things for a novel. Yes, even when you invent a story, you need to be grounded in the real world. A friend wrote a story in which an arson case was crucial to the story. He wrote first and researched later. Not good. Too much of what he wrote had to be scrapped or totally overhauled.

So, I’m researching. I’m looking for:

  • Facts. I need to know the true facts about certain settings, events, materials, etc.
  • Implications. I need to know not just the basic facts, but the implications of those facts as they might play out in a story. How do these facts make my characters cry, hurt, laugh or feel some other strong emotion?

    For example, I’m writing a science fiction story and found some interesting information about water. We normally think of it has having three phases: ice, water, steam. In fact, there are 14 phases, which happen at extremely high temperatures or under great pressure. A planet extremely close to a star/sun could still have liquid or solid water, IF it’s also under lots of pressure. It could have Hot Ice.

    The question here is what would it mean for the “people” who live on such a planet? They’d be used to very high temperature and very high pressure. Would they live on the surface, or perhaps live under water, where the temperatures are lower? Facts alone aren’t enough, whether you’re writing a mystery or science fiction or literary fiction. You must think about how those facts affect your characters.

When do you have enough information?

Sometimes, I think I could get lost in information, it’s just fun to research. You have enough, though, when you can start to put those facts to use as you develop your plot.

Think of Scott Westerfield’s new book, Leviathon. He extrapolates a world where the Darwinists have genetically engineered all sorts of strange beasts, including a flying whale. When he got to the flying whale, it was enough to start plotting. But he went a step further and created his story as an alternate history, retelling and reinterpreting the events leading up to World War I–another extensive bit of research!

How Long will I be in this phase?

Until I sick of it and start writing.

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