One of favorite parts about writing (any writing) is the research. But it can be a problem, because often I get so engrossed in the issue that I don't get back to writing...
Like last night. One of the characters in my current wip gets into a brief tussle with an eagle-like creature. The result is some lacerations to his arm and face. So I'm sitting there, typing away wondering, hmmm... should I have the cut get infected? That could increase the tension in the next few scenes, especially since this is a primitive civilization without modern medicine, which means an infection could be a serious issue...
I honestly don't know much about infected wounds, except that gangrene can set in. Turns out, an infection can be a big deal, crippling, or even fatal, even in a civilization with
modern medicine. (Did you know that there are lots of different types of bacteria and viruses that can infect a cut? And that they can spread to other parts of the body from the infected wound?) I don't want the guy to die (I've got better plans for him than that, bwahahahaha), nor do I want to go the cliched route of he's on the crux, delirious with fever, but makes it through the night and recovers completely. (eye roll, please) So it looks like infection is out. That's easy enough, since they are in a remote location on another planet. I would have had to jump through some hoops to explain why there were bacteria or viruses that could cause an infection anyway.
But what about shock? Several big cuts like that... could he lose enough blood to put him into shock? (Another life threatening situation, one not quite so cliched, yay!). So I did some research on shock. The severity of the shock depends on the amount of blood lost. So, how much blood is this guy realistically going to lose? That's the question.
Guess what... there aren't any websites that tell you that sort of thing (at least that I could find). I did however, learn:
- how much blood they used to take with leeches (about the same amount you give when you donate blood... hmmm... maybe donation has some health benefits??)
- the muscleature, arterial and venuous structures as well as the neural make up of the face
- the history of repairing wounds with "flaps" (yes, he's definately going to get a flap wound!)
- the ethical dilmemmas a doctor faces with patients who refuse blood tranfusions and optimal treatment plans for them (unfortunately not very useful to me, since those were all modern solutions...)
- that salt is an antibacterial agent (so that's why we salt meat, and here I thought corned beef, bacon, and ham just tasted good...) and doctors used to put salt in wounds to prevent infection. (and I always wondered what kind of sadist would put salt in someone's wound anyway, now I know, it's medicinal.)
- that silver is also an antibacterial agent, although rubbing your silver celtic knot ring on your cut probably won't help, since its nooks and crannies are likely filled with germs
- the fact that there are a lot of companies out there trying to sell you homoepathic remedies with probable benefits to make poultices for wounds, but very little data that shows why you would want to put those particular herbs, minerals, etc on the wound
- the various ways to suture a wound, what materials are prefered, which direction to sew a curved wound, and what the pros and cons of closing a wound versus leaving it open
- that most medical research articles are incomprehensible unless you've been to medical school to learn the technical terms for everything
Anyway, after several hours (like four or five) of reading about a wide variety of topics, I now have a plan for my guy that is going to be very realistic. Of course, that translates into a handful of sentences in one place, a couple more elsewhere, a truly spectacular scar, and a whole bunch of things that the protagonists are NOT going to do. From the reader's perspective, it's five minutes worth of reading, and a relatively minor incident. For me, it has it's purposes -- it moves things along in the direction I want them to go on several levels: it takes the two characters places I want them to go, both as individuals as well as in terms of the relationship that's developing between them, it sets up a situation which is going to create some difficulties down the road for one of the characters, adds some tension to the plot in a section that needed it, etc, etc.
Most important, all that work kept me from writing something that will pull the reader out and make them think, "Oh, right, that kind of thing never happens in real life." Sometimes, I think I spend too much time in research, and other times I think every second of it is worth it.