How to Research for a Story

Sometimes accuracy matters, sometimes it really doesn’t. Ultimately you need to serve the needs of your story before, say, physics.

That said, as the world gets smaller and information becomes easer to access, writers find their work under more scrutiny than ever before. Poking holes in fiction is a common pastime not only for trolls but for professionals in that field, and people who are genuinely interested in the topic. It’s easy to reach for a TV show, a documentary, or a quick fact in isolation from a textbook; but in doing so there’s a good chance that you’ll miss some important details and context, thus alienating those with whom this experience could resonate the most.

For example, you can’t hit someone with a Taser while touching them, or you’ll feel the effects yourself. I’m looking at you, directors of The Machine. So if you can’t go for documentaries, and you can’t rely on the veracity of blogs, academic articles are another great resource. The story I’m working on right now is a secondary world in which a talented and accomplished healer, Hrisa, quits working to save people and instead transitions to post-mortem cleanup. It’s been interesting to consider medicine in terms of a battlefield. No matter how good a healer you are, no matter the technology and access one has; the battle with death is always a losing one. You can save someone for a while, but eventually you will both lose. I wanted to see if this premise holds up to real nurses’ experience. Here are some of the articles I found. Post-traumatic stress disorder in military nurses who served in Vietnam during the war years 1965–1973, by Elizabeth M. Norman Results indicate that the number of nurses suffering from this disorder has decreased since the initial postwar years. Two variables (the intensity of the wartime experience and supportive social networks after the war) influenced the level of PTSD.

The prevalence and impact of post traumatic stress disorder and burnout syndrome in nurses, by Meredith Mealer et al This paper discusses whether post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and burnout syndrome (BOS) are common in nurses, and whether the co-existence of PTSD and BOS is associated with altered perceptions of work and nonwork-related activities.

Increased Prevalence of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in Critical Care Nurses, by Meredith L. Mealer, Et Al Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses work in a demanding environment where they are repetitively exposed to traumatic situations and stressful events. The aim of this research is to determine whether there is an increased prevalence of psychological symptoms in ICU nurses when compared with general nurses. Another option, if I’m looking for something more specific or esoteric, is to seek out the paper’s author. Meredith L. Mealer’s coming up frequently, so in this case she’d be a good choice. Be prepared to hear ‘no,’ though. It’s a jungle out there long before you hit submission time.

“Most of the Island Trauma team’s work involves the bereaved or people going through emotional upheaval, which is the most difficult part of the job, explains Baruchin. “Some people will be in shock, some will break down, some people will get in there with you and clean because it was somebody they knew. That’s probably the hardest thing, but if we’ve done it right, it’s a hug-fest by the end of the job.”  — Saira Kahn, “Smelling Death: On the Job With New York’s Crime-Scene Cleaners”

death

Medicine Vs. Death: Department of Health & Wellness in Fulton County, Georgia

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One thought on “How to Research for a Story

  1. mrschmoe

    Interesting article and good thought to digest. As the saying goes, after writing, research to fill in the details. It’s a tall order. Readers are a fickle lot.
    Researching is a tedious work, producing facts that would surprise you.

    Reply

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