For some stories you’re going to spend a TON of time doing research and answering questions that seem less important than your plot: and sometimes not a single bit of that information is going to make it into the final draft. But doing the research is helpful. It can ground your idea, make you sure of your choices, and give you confidence to move forward with a strange concept.
Or, if you’re like me, you find research fun, and eventually have to remind yourself that you need to stop researching and actually write the story.
For my characters’ powers, I’d originally planned on five Elements : Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spark (later renamed Electricity). I wanted the first four because I’m super original, and also because they’re literally the four elements of western culture. I included Spark because – if Dr. Frankenstein taught me anything – it’s that you need a ‘spark’ to create life.
Then I started wondering how my characters would get these powers. Mutation? Gamma radiation? Mutant insect bite? Could there be a mutant beaver* biting people, giving them the power of water? And if so, what kind of animal would give fire? Fire ants? Fireflies? Dragons?
My brain had basically turned into a five-year-old and wouldn’t stop asking me ‘But how would that work? And WHY?’ It was annoying, and really, really effective.
Eventually I settled on genetic tampering, and soon Elementals were born!
‘But, how did Ice come into the mix?’ You’re no doubt asking. ‘I know there’s a sixth Element – it says so right in the title.’
Well, it’s all DNA’s fault. I wanted each element to correspond to a nucleobase in DNA, but you can’t do that with five elements. Well, you could, but it’d involve a lot of thought, and it was much easier to just add a sixth Element. I didn’t want to use metal or wood, so I settled on Ice.
After that, I fell down the research-rabbit-hole hard. I started researching DNA, making up names for my new nucleobases, and pairing them up (even though this is never mentioned in the story and probably never will be). Then came Punnett square research; wondering which hair and eye colours would be dominant and which would be recessive; and the invention of Independent genes.
I had never taken biology in school, yet this subject was proving to be more helpful than physics & chemistry.
Knowing the intimate details of how everything worked helped with certain plot-points. Whenever a character had a question, I knew how to answer it; and whenever a decision had to be made, I had the science to back me up.
It’s like an underground basement – someone else might not know it’s there, but the whole house is being supported by it.
Side note: There aren’t many days left to submit your stories for Fantasy From the Rock. If you haven’t submitted yet – get on it!
*Of course it’d be a beaver – I’m Canadian. A moose bite would give the power of Earth, of course, and a Canadian goose for Air.