Tag Archives: writing research

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”

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

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NASA-funded study on the fall of Empires (including ours!)

Fascinating article sent to me by a fellow post-apocalyptic/dystopian screenwriter. Some of you have noticed that the US (and a number of other countries) have been mimicking the excesses of the Roman Empire. This article written by Dr. Nafeez Ahmed details common factors that led to the collapse of great empires similar to our own, including the Roman, Han, Mauryan, and Gupta. Economic stratification, climate change, and poor allocation of resources certainly sound familiar.

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilizational decline — which may help determine the risk of collapse today. Head on over and give it a read!

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“Roman-American” flag from PhotoBucket

Writing Research: Crisis Intervention

I need to venture into a thorny subject for a moment.

One of the short stories I’m working on involves a hero who finds himself in trouble for doing the right thing. It’s in a high-fantasy setting. Most medieval-style stories feature beggars and extreme poverty; so I’ve been researching how social safety-nets, social work, and intervention function in order to integrate them into the setting.

Some key bits of world-building I’ll have to address include:

  • What are the social ills the organization seeks to address?
  • What is the motivation for creating the organization? (Religion was a big one in those days.)
  • How are members of the organization selected and trained?
  • Where does the funding come from?

Issues That Social Safety-Nets Address:

Precedent:

  • Charity in the Middle Ages: Discusses how ideology of charity became institutionalized, some known charitable organizations (Hospitallers of Saint John, Teutonic Order, Trinitarians, etc)  in the dark ages, and who benefited from these charities (the poor, sick, orphans, widows, prostitutes, etc.) The most fascinating tidbit was that these organizations were never centralized because the church couldn’t figure out how to fit them into the bureaucratic clergy. Priorities, guys…
  • Government Welfare Programs in Ancient Rome: Including corn reserves, food stamps, and subsidized education.

Fictional Examples:

  • Excision, by Scott H. Andrews: A fascinating fantasy tale where healers are the heroes, and disease the enemy.
  • Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy touches on child abuse. In an interview, Weeks mentioned that his wife had been working with abused children when he began writing the series.

Any resources I missed?  Have you read other fantasy stories with social safety-nets?    Share in the comments.

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