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David W. Page

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· Code Blue - a writer's guide to hospitals, including the ER, OR, and ICU

· The Phoenix Prescription

· Body Trauma - a writer's guide to wounds and injuries

· A Little Truth About Ermergency Rooms

· How do you choose a surgeon?

· When Patients and Doctors Don't Hear Each Other

· Is Hastening Death Ever Right?

· Good news for smart patients

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Books by David W. Page
What if Your Characters Get Sick?
By David W. Page
Last edited: Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Posted: Wednesday, January 07, 2009

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David W. Page

• When Patients and Doctors Don't Hear Each Other
• A Little Truth About Ermergency Rooms
• How do you choose a surgeon?
• Is Hastening Death Ever Right?
           >> View all 5
Getting illness and injuries 'right' on the page means doing a little research. I'll tell you how and where to start.

At some point in your story, your characters will almost certainly get sick or hurt. As Dennis Lehane taught me in my MFA program if you whisper brutality your readers will lean in to listen. But if you shout out gore, they will step back to avoid you. In other words, sprinkle on the injury description lightly, just a little spicy seasoning. but, make certain you get the injury description right -- because sure as hell one of your readers will have had that disease or injury.

Fortunately for writers (and patients), there is a plethora of medical informaiton out there on the Web. Not all of it is accurate. But, where do you start? I'll give you a few common sense suggestions:  

  • look into the landscape of your story: to determine what illneses or injuries 'fit'; for example, stories set in the northern climes might involve hypothermia or cold-induced soft tisse injuries. Tropics-based stories may see animal bites (snakes, monkey, etc.) or attacks (shark, lion, hippo, etc.) as a way to put your hero/heroine deeper in a hole. 
  • what risky activity does your character endulge in? common injuries can occur with many different sports and/or outdoor endeavors; you can scale the injury to the length of time you need your character out of action (off the storyline); a hand injury might keep your pianist from performing for months with all sorts of implications re career, practice, engagements, economics, etc.
  • review your character's family history: do your heroine's mother, sister and two aunts have breast cancer? chances are there's a lousy gene in the attic (BRCA 1 and 2); inherited anemia? diabetes? Hypertension? There's nothing like a bad medical family history to set of a few ticking clocks!
  • check out your character's workplace: ripped off finhgers, crushed legs, inhaled toxins can produce emerhgency room admissions or a slow degeneration fo a character's a bility ot see, hear, walk, etc.

I've advised novice, popular and literary authors in weaving believable medical threads into their stories. For ideas on traumatic injuries and how to treat them, check out my book, "Body Trauma - a writer's guide to wounds and injuries at If you have a medical question, leave me a blog message (Doctor CutWrite).


Web Site David W. Page, MD FACS I write books about medicine and literature

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