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It’s a fact that we all know, and take for granted: power corrupts.

But did you know that it’s been scientifically proven?  Power increases testosterone levels, which increases the uptake of dopamine in the brain’s reward centre.  The result is increased egocentricity and decreased empathy.

According to the New Scientist,

Power feels good because it uses the same reward network as cocaine and sex.

Well, that explains that then.

When given a plate of biscuits, the boss of the group is more likely to take the last one and eat it messily.  Think about that the next time you’re sharing biscuits at work or with a group of friends.

Power affects different people in different ways.  Those who feel they aren’t up to the job tend to become more aggressive to compensate.  But for those who are up to it, power increases people’s ability to think strategically and abstractly.

Have you given your characters power recently?  Have you thought about how that power is going to change them over time?

I spotted this article, a quick and simple summary of the different sub-atomic particles.  If you want to write a character who is a nuclear physicist, they will know this stuff, and lots more.

Personally, I don’t have time to become a nuclear physicist, or a botanist, or a horse-riding champion, just because I want to write believable characters.  But I do want to write believable characters.  The question is, how far do you go to get the level of knowledge right?  It’s got to be simple enough to not lose your audience, but correct enough that you don’t piss off any nuclear physicists, botanists or horse-riding champions who happen to read your book.

Here are some ideas:

  • Have a friend who is a nuclear physicist explain whatever concept you need to have in your book to you in simple but correct terms.
  • If you don’t have any friends who are botanists, go to your local university and find theirs.  Chances are, they’ll be happy enough to explain things to an interested person.
  • Once you’ve written the scene, get that person to read it and tell you if your character is believable to a horse riding champion.
  • Then give the scene to a “normal” beta reader and they’ll tell you if it’s too complex.

Why this order?  Experts tend to over-complicate things.  It’s much more likely that they will insist you include that one extra vital detail – which is likely to be the one detail that confuses non-experts.  Since most of the people who read your book will be non-experts, they should get final say.  After all, you’re not writing a textbook.

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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