Is That Medically Possible?

I’m not a doctor and do not pretend to know a great deal about medical matters.  However, there are things I’ve learned over time that could be useful for you to know.

Too often, we see injuries that simply aren’t believable, because the reader doubts such a thing is possible.

For instance, if I want an attacker to stab someone in the head with a pocketknife, writing that it pierced the skull, entered the brain and caused instant death is very unlikely.  That’s why we do research.  What’s inside our faces?  A skull.  A bony skull.  A sturdy bony skull.  Damage is possible, but it is designed to protect the brain, so it is pretty durable.  Is it possible to stab through it?  Maybe.  In your research you may find that such a thing has happened once or twice, though there may be extenuating circumstances that made it possible.  But in general, it probably doesn’t happen a lot.

So, if it isn’t at all possible, don’t write it.  No one will believe you.  If it is possible, though not probable, write it, but address the issue of unusual circumstances making it possible.  Say that it’s rare, and mention how the knifer either got very lucky in their attack, or was so skilled that they knew how to circumvent the difficulties.  Give your reader a reason to believe anything that isn’t common.

We often see depicted in movies/stories someone being stabbed or their throat slit or such, and then they silently die instantly.  Only trouble is, that isn’t at all likely.  Most people will cry out when stabbed or even attacked, so you need to silence or muffle any outcry.  Most of the time the person isn’t dying from the injury so much as bleeding to death and that doesn’t happen instantaneously.  Knowing human physiology increases the likelihood that your attacker stabs them in an extremely vulnerable spot, to improve the possibility of killing their victim.  I ran into this when I had someone kill a person who was holding a hostage.  I had to find a way of quickly killing the person without the hostage being injured in the process.  And in researching the issue, it wasn’t simple to come up with a believable solution.

We see this often, also, when someone breaks a leg and then is running marathons a week later.  Bones don’t knit that fast.  Know how long it takes to recover from an injury – that is how long your ‘victim’ is going to be hampered.  And that means complete recovery.  If you don’t use an arm or leg for 6 weeks while a bone mends, the muscles are going to be weakened by lack of use and need to regain their former ability.  Keep that in mind.

Maybe not all of your readers will know when you fudge something.  Maybe if the story is really good they won’t bother to question whether or not it could happen.  But maybe they will.  If you have a sound basis for an injury/illness, you don’t have to go into all the details of it, just what is important to the story.  But having the details in the back of your mind can add to the telling of it, or guide you where to make advisory comments, such as, “Don’t see that often.  Once in a blue moon.  The killer was either very good or very lucky to accomplish it.”

I spent hours researching the attack I mentioned earlier, but it amounted to only a couple of seconds/minutes “on screen” and I didn’t go into it in great detail.  I, in essence, had 50 pages of research for 3 sentences.  But having the details in my mind made it possible to write those 3 sentences more believably than before I did the research.

Keep your credibility – stay believable.

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Master – apprentice. Hmmm, an ongoing theme in many arenas.

Over on Tumblr, I found this quote on kristensnotebook and I think it’s true. 

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”                             –  William Faulkner

I’ve read things and been enchanted with the emotions they pull from me, and then read something else and thought, “This isn’t very good.  They’re telling me what happens, and they aren’t fleshing anything out to give it depth or meaning.”  We may not always consciously read that way, but there is usually a general sense we get about what we’ve read.  If the book is good, we tend to reread it, sometimes more than once, and as we do we notice tiny details that play into making it so ‘good’.

I am a fan of the Harry Potter books, but not particularly of the movies after about the third one.  But even with the early movies, if I sit down to watch them, I find myself thinking, “Why bother with this abbreviated version when I can just read the original and get the full flavor?”  More often than not, I’ll turn off the movie and pick up the book.  And whatever is prompting me to do that is probably the same thing that has prompted so very many people to read and love these books.

That’s just one example, and not everyone will be writers like J.K. Rowling, but don’t we want to strive for that level where readers love to feast on our smorgasbord of words and ideas?

Word Play

Am I the only one who randomly thinks of a word, then decides I vaguely know what it means (enough to understand when it is used), but don’t really know the precise definition?  Periodically I’ll think of a word (not always sure why) or use a word and realize that I should look it up and get a better understanding of its exact meaning.  Sometimes I’ve found that my vague understanding is sufficient, if not entirely accurate.

For example, the word ‘pundit’ floated into my head this morning for no discernible reason.  I had the vague sense of ‘people who say something’ since we hear it in the media quite a bit.  The actual definition is a little more precise than just vague ‘people’.  According to Merriam-Webster:

Definition of pundit

1 : pandit

2 : a learned person : teacher

3 : a person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner usually through the mass media : critic

These definitions make the ‘people’ a little more authoritative, though not limited to a particular field of study.  I think generally we hear the word in connection with politics, but these definitions would allow for it to be used in a broader sense, such as a scientific symposium, the medical profession or even someone teaching a class at a community college.

Do you look up words to make sure you understand their meanings and are using them correctly?  If not, try it.  You might be surprised by all the things you’ll learn.

Up for Grabs #1

Wherein I have written something, whether a single line or two, or several paragraphs, but think it highly unlikely I will ever do anything with them beyond that snippet.  Therefore, they are herewith put ‘up for grabs’.  If any of you writers can and wish to make use of them, feel completely free to do so.  I don’t even require any sort of acknowledgement if you do.  You can take a tiny part of them, the thing in its entirety exactly as is, or the basic idea and completely do with it what you will.  It just seemed pointless to let these things sit ignored on my computer until the end of time, knowing full well I won’t do anything more with them.  Rest assured, if there is any idea I have even the vaguest intention of pursuing, I will not be posting it here.  So, no fear that I’ll change my mind.

 

Her blond hair was pulled up into a topknot, but the topknot itself was a lurid pink color.  It gave a jaunty, fun impression that didn’t quite match her glowering expression.

Short? I Can Do Short. I’m Full of Short.

Noticed an article today that might be of interest to some of you.  It is aimed toward people who enjoy reading short stories, but along those lines uses writers of short stories.

The first link (yahoo) is where I saw the story, but it was reprinted from TechCrunch (the second link).  Yahoo’s links sometimes disappear, so I’m putting both below so you can read the story about the website.  There is also a link for the website itself.

A service for reading short stories, but also for writers of short stories.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/curious-fictions-helps-readers-pay-153856186.html

or the original article on TechCrunch:  https://techcrunch.com/2018/03/08/curious-fictions-launch/

https://curiousfictions.com/

NOTE:  Beyond having read the article, I know nothing about the website, so I cannot personally vouch for it or recommend it with any actual experience.

Can’t You Just Picture It?

I was reading a blog post about writing images rather than scenes, and I couldn’t help but wonder if writers didn’t do that already.  For me, I ‘see’ what I am writing, as if it were a movie playing out in my head, as I go along – I’m essentially writing what I ‘see’.  Similarly, when I read, I ‘see’ the story playing out.

I think many do that, which is one of the reasons it can be difficult to watch a movie made from a book – the filmmaker’s vision of the story/characters doesn’t closely match how we envisioned it.  Some small details may not matter overly much to us, but some we will feel strongly about.

How can you verbally paint a picture of a sunset without seeing a sunset, either literally, via some medium (paper, computer image, etc.) or mentally envisioning one?  Along those same lines, I ‘hear’ my characters speaking their dialogue.  It’s part of what tells me if the dialogue is too stiff or boring or confusing.

I had always assumed, probably incorrectly, that everyone ‘saw’ and ‘heard’ their stories as they wrote them.  If you don’t, maybe you should make the effort to do it.  It’s easy to write “The girl wore a blue dress.”  But if you are mentally picturing that girl in that blue dress, you might notice that the dress material flows and ripples around her as she moves, making it seem as though the dress is made of several different shades of blue depending on how the light is hitting it.

The saying is that ‘A picture paints a thousand words’.  If that is so, are we trying to use a half dozen words to describe the painting?  Doesn’t that inevitably mean, we’ve fallen short of doing it justice by many hundreds of words?

Next time you are writing, take a moment to watch it play out in your mind, then write down what happens.  See if it makes a difference in your story.

And This is Why We’re Writers

While most of the world looks around them, sees what is and accepts it, we ask ‘Why?’ or ‘What if…’.

For many of us it started at a young age.  An example, you ask?

Well, me – junior high school – science class.  They taught us about the discovery of pencillin when the guy was contemplating bread mold.  I forget the particulars now, but I’m sure he had some rational reason to equate moldy bread and the thought, “Wow – I bet I could make something from that to feed to or inject into people and help fight off illnesses!”

But, I digress.  He thought of it, it worked.  So far so good.

Even in those days, there was a writer lurking inside me.  Why?  What if?

So I went up to the teacher and posed what I thought was a completely reasonable question:  “If penicillin comes from bread mold, and you were sick and didn’t have any pencillin, could you eat moldy bread and have it help you?”

I suspect she still tells that story to anyone who will listen – this crazy kid in her 8th grade science class with the weird questions.  (Full disclosure:  this wasn’t the only question I’d asked…)

To her credit, she attempted an answer:  “I suppose it might help some, but I’m not sure you’d want to do that.”

Okay, thanks.

I wonder if she was glad when the school year ended and I moved to the next grade?

Why?  What if?  Maybe a story about a science teacher with a student who asks weird questions…

Unblock the Blocks

Blogger Hannah Heath has begun doing YouTube videos also.  In a recent one (Oct 2017), someone asked her about “writer’s block”.  She replied that she didn’t believe in it, and went on to explain that too often writers use that excuse for not writing.  In the normal work-a-day world, most of us have paying jobs.  We don’t have the leisure to simply say, “I have CPA block”, or “I have brain surgeon block”, or “I have auto mechanic block”.  We have to show up to work and do the best we can anyway.  Allowing ourselves to ‘enjoy’ the leisure of writer’s block frees us from the responsibility of dealing with it.  Accountants do accounting and writers do writing.

Her point is interesting, and well made.  Writer’s block does conveniently allow us to stop writing for a while, and it sounds so creative and grandiose in the bargain.  But as Hannah points out, instead we need to examine what our ‘block’ actually is, and then actively do something toward removing it, or getting around it.

Are we lacking inspiration?  If so, are we doing anything to gain inspiration?  Research?  Writing out every possible idea we can come up with to see if something workable presents itself?

Are we just burned out on writing and need a break?  If so, are we setting aside a fixed amount of time to take that break, with a firm deadline of when to come back to it?  This would be the equivalent of scheduling your vacation in the regular working world.  At the end of the vacation period you DO have to return to work, whether you ‘want’ to or not.

If you can point to something more concrete than ‘block’, then you have a better chance of overcoming it.  If I tell you “the road is blocked”, you have no idea how to respond.  Is the road flooded, but in time the water will drain and it will again be passable?  Was the road washed away entirely in the flood and no passage will be possible until the road is rebuilt?  Is a tree down and blocking the road, and a chainsaw could quickly remedy the situation?

Finding the source of the block lets you make a plan for dealing with the delay or setback.  It’s difficult to fight against the unknown.

Name your problem, then work to resolve it.

Why Bother?

I pass a billboard every morning on the way to work advertising a tv show called The Resident.  It has the tag line “Can one doctor save a broken system?”.  In the picture, we have:

1)  Latin male

2)  white female

3)  black female

4)  older white guy

5)  young handsome white guy

So, let’s guess which of them is the doctor that is trying to save the broken system!  Well, when they don’t have enough room, some of the ad pictures omit the black female, so I guess we can rule her out.  But the others…oooooo, who could it be?????

Give up?

It’s…ta da, the young handsome white guy!

Wow, didn’t see that coming, did you!  (Yes, dear hearts, that is sarcasm.  Lots and lots of sarcasm.)

And this is why we need more writers who are creative and diverse.  I look at that and have no reason to think I should watch, as there is unlikely to be anything said or done that I haven’t seen (frequently) before.  Why would I bother?  What reason have you given me to think you have brought anything new to the table when you are so clearly writing cliché?

I have nothing against young, handsome, white guys – I rather like them.  Even so, they aren’t the only ‘heroes’ in the world.  Others can just as seamlessly carry a story.  Witness recent movies like Rogue One (female, latino, muslim, asian all in one package), The Last Jedi gives us Finn (black, among others – haven’t seen it yet) and in a very nice touch, a movie of several years ago that I’ve mentioned before called Penelope (which had Peter Dinklage as a reporter and his size was completely irrelevant to the story).

If everyone in your story is all one color, you must live in a very colorless world.  People will go to great lengths to create aliens that look and sound different, but will not write people like that.

Let’s get more creative!

What’s the Difference?

As I’ve mentioned, I write fan fiction.  That means I’m working in an established world with established characters and an established history.  While some fan fiction writers go AU (alternate universe/reality) with their stories, changing whatever they want as they play in someone else’s world, for the most part, I try to be true to the story the original author told.

Because of that, it limits some possibilities.  Even so, the challenge is always to bring something new to the table.  There are a million love stories, battle stories, fantasy stories, etc. and many have similar details.  A guy and a girl falling in love is standard in a romance, but how they get there isn’t.  Unfortunately, some writers keep using the same scenarios over and over.  If I tell you a story wherein John and Mary meet, fall in love and live happily ever after, you are not going to want to read a second story that I write wherein I merely change the characters’ names to Bob and Sue, but pretty much tell you exactly the same story with exactly the same details.  Each time I tell a story, I need to bring something new to it, and so do you.

In my case, I have to think of scenarios for meeting that are ‘possible’ within the already existing timeline/scenario set by the author.  Anything the author didn’t originally tell his readers then becomes the fodder for finding new stories.  Tolkien told us how Faramir and Eowyn met in Lord of the Rings.  But he did not tell us how Eomer and Lothiriel met.  He tells us they married and had a son named Elfwine, but he never explored their history/story or told us much of them.  (Some even say Lothiriel and Elfwine are not canon characters since they did not appear in the main story line, but in additional writings of Tolkien.)

So, if I want to write about Faramir/Eowyn, I either have to flesh out the details of how Tolkien said it happened, filling in gaps that he didn’t bother to mention as to their meeting and falling in love, or I have to pick up my story after they’ve met and continue on from there into the unknown.  But if I write Eomer/Lothiriel, so long as I follow the details of history and the timeline, I have a lot more leeway in the story I tell.

But that’s just part of it.  I’ve written many Eomer/Lothiriel stories.  Others have also.  So why write another one?  There isn’t any point (not even I would want to read it), if a new story didn’t bring something new and creative to the tale.

The same is true for anything we write, even completely original works.  Find something new to say or explore about love at first sight.  Find a creative way to storm the castle and defeat the evil king.  Find/create new and different characters, with different personalities.  Not all dwarves should sound and act like Gimli.  Not every medieval fantasy requires elves that look and act like Legolas.  Love at first sight doesn’t happen exactly the same way for everyone.

It’s easy to copy details that another writer has already dreamed up and written, but we are writers, not transcribers.  We should be creating our own details, or looking at them in new ways, or exploring things they didn’t touch on.

Be the daisy growing in the bed of roses.  Find something different to say.  Then you might not be lost in the crowd.