Thursday, December 01, 2005
  Research
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:

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.

 
Comments:
AMEN!!! Research is SO important. Besides, there are some readers who won't be fooled, and they'll know it if you didn't do your homework. (Writing historical fiction is hard that way too!)

:-)
 
Pamela,

Putting on my doctor hat... For a human, the face is one of the most highly vascularized areas of the skin. However, most of those vessels are small. It's highly unlikely that anyone could go into shock from facial lacerations (unless you removed a good chunk of skin) - you'd need to get the larger arteries in the neck or skull.

However, one cool factoid is that the veins that drain the skin around your eyes have no valves, and they go right into your brain. Therefore, we treat skin infections in those areas much more aggressively than in other parts of the body. If you wanted to bump a character off in a shocking surprise manner, you could have him/her get an infected small cut or bug bite around the eyes, have him/her blow it off for a few days, then WHAMMO! - next thing you know he's febrile, vomiting, obtunded and then 'gorked' as we say - on his way to a sudden literary exit.

(I think that something like this actually happened to Lord Carnaveron, who funded the King Tut expedition, then died from an infected shaving cut.)

OK, I'm out of here, on my way to other pursuits at 6 am...

Peace,
-Jihad Shoshara
 
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Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.


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