I was struck recently by a phrase used in a news report: “made-up facts.” It had to do with rationalizations politicians offered to justify their positions. We’ve all seen that happen on both sides of the aisle. And made-up facts are, of course, what we commonly refer to as fiction. To create stories that become real to readers, we make up facts—places, incidents, diseases, machines, and much more.
Use facts to make up facts
When an author uses actual facts as the foundation for made-up facts, the illusion of reality is enhanced. In my novel Finding Magic, I wanted to include a terrible plague that had 100% lethality and would wipe out humanity. But, to make it real, I needed to know what possible organism might cause such a plague and what its characteristics would be.
- Fact 1: Mad cow disease is, as far as I can tell, 100% fatal. And it’s a horrible disease. It is caused by wrongly folded PrP proteins—prions–affecting the brain. But this disease takes from 2 ½ to 8 years to incubate. I needed some way to make it quicker, and to find a way to spread it other than eating contaminated food.
- Fact 2: Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious airborne disease that only takes 7 to 10 days to incubate. But the bacterium doesn’t make proteins.
- Fact 3: Enter Clostridia, a bacteria that produces botulism toxin, a protein manufactured by the bacteria.
So I had three elements that, put together, could create a horrific, terminal, infectious disease. How to do that?
- Fact 4: Gene splicing, or recombinant DNA, is a method scientists use put together the genetic structures of different organisms. There are chemical means for cutting a string of DNA/amino acids that create “sticky ends” that can be bonded together. My antagonist uses this science to create an almost-successful disease.
Almost—it doesn’t manufacture misfolded PrP proteins because there is one last splicing step that he is unable to do with his scientific approach and tools. So…
- Made-up fact 5: He uses the so-called “magic” in the story, a source of energy that he and his kinsmen can use to “see” inside cell structure and to manipulate genetic material. He is successful and uses another real technique to cause his lethal bacteria to become spores (Fact 6?) that he can easily spread.
Here’s what his disease will do: Create holes in neurons, ripping brain tissue into tatters. And that brings on dementia of the most terrible sort. It will spread from person to person through the air, and there would be no antibiotics or other treatments. It would be unstoppable. Here’s how the antagonist describes the results.
“Victims will become unable to drive cars or fly planes, perform surgery or operate computers. Problems with language, sight, muscular weakness, and coordination will worsen. As the disease advances, involuntary, irregular jerking movements will appear. People will stagger and fall, unable to rise.”
And then, of course, they will die.
A made-up defensive weapon
In my novel We the Enemy, I wanted to arm citizens with a nonlethal defensive weapon so they could stop attackers without harm.
- Fact 1: there is a fast-acting sleep inducing drug called alfentanil that, according to my research, has a flexible, effective, non-dangerous dosage
- Fact 2: there is a substance that expands into a sticky binding that is difficult to break
- Fact 3: there is Mace and pepper spray
- Fact 4: there are chemicals that can cause mental confusion
- Fact 5: air-powered guns can deliver ammo at non-lethal velocities
So I concocted a small, cheap weapon for my characters to use:
- Made-up fact: “Stoppers” can fire any of three rounds to stop an attacker. They are called nap, tangle, and whack (whack is a combination of Mace, pepper spray and a confusion chemical).
And then there are the facts behind my vampire story.
In my humor/paranormal adventure novel, The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles, I wanted the characters to encounter real-world vampirism, which called upon being able to give it a “real” cause. After a little bit of research, enter the disease rabies.
Facts: the symptoms of rabies include
- night wandering
- being prone to biting
- supersensitivity to all stimuli, including sunlight and strong odors such as garlic
Sounds positively vampirish, doesn’t it. All I had to do was posit a new fact:
Made-up fact: a mutation of the rabies virus takes over the human body but lives on, maintaining the body, and doesn’t die off as the real virus does when it kills the host. The mutated virus needs blood—and only blood–to survive.
As Sergeant Joe Friday used to say on Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
How have you used facts to create made-up facts?
Readers, Ray’s novel We the Enemy is an issues novel meant to be a thought tool for addressing the need for action to do something about gun violence in America. Because of the horrific shooting in Connecticut, Ray is offering free ebook copies (Kindle, .epub) to anyone who wants one. Just email him and tell him which format you’d like to receive.