Monday I’ll be turning in a book on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Invariably 25% of the comments/questions that I get from my editor will be requests for more information. Why did this person do X instead of Y? Where did he get this idea? Why didn’t he do Z instead?
Most of the time, I can see why she wants me to add these things, and sometimes I actually manage to pull it off. But there are other times that the information just isn’t anywhere that I can find it.
That’s the wacky things about doing research, especially historic research. You may suspect that a give fact is out there in the world someplace, but that doesn’t mean that it is indexed or searchable. Someday, someone may stumble across it but you haven’t managed to find it yet.
When I can’t find the information needed to answer my editor’s question, that’s what I tell her. “Wow. I’d love to be able to answer that but I can’t find the information.” Fortunately, that has never been the case for a critical fact. It has always been something she was just curious about or thought would make a nice addition.
But what do you do if the fact is essential? The problem with writing nonfiction is that you need to find the facts. If the information you find says “we talked about how to spend the money” but doesn’t quote any specific dialogue, you can’t write out anything in quotation marks. You may know that a soldier or a student did X, but have no idea what that person’s name was which means that in your telling, they must remain nameless.
If your story doesn’t work with only facts that you can find, try writing it as fiction. In your author’s note, you can always explain which information is factual and which was cooked up in the author’s brain. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you have to be able to create a solid story. Which way you choose to go with it depends on your idea, the facts that you can find, and your inclinations as a writer.