Tag Archives: accuracy

A Medicalized Fiction BONUS: Archaic Drug Terminology

The research you need to do to make your medicalized historical fiction ring true may present you with unfamiliar vocabulary, or for the medical conditions appearing in your science fiction or fantasy you may want to use exotic-sounding medical words that are appropriate to the conditions you need to describe, without having to make up terminology. Click on the image above to download a PDF drug glossary compiled from the 1906 Squibb Materia Medica.

Reminder: If you want a handy reference guide to all of the natural plant-based remedies that appear in Squibb, you can find out how to order a copy of Botanical Remedies here:

Stay Tuned for Part 3 of The Ten Rights of Medicalized Fiction:
The Right Damage
(Caution: Viewer Discretion Advised)



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The Ten Rights of Medicalized Fiction (Part 1): The Right Character

Real people don’t often make it through two consecutive days unscathed, much less a week (at the very least, there’s going to be a mosquito bite, a burnt tongue, a stubbed toe, a hangnail or a paper cut), so it’s unrealistic to expect the people who live in your novel to do so. Nevertheless, it’s a mistake to people a story with “whipping boy” characters, whose only purpose is to suffer injury in order to distract from the fact that the protagonist and antagonist escape harm.

Whatever physically or psychologically happens – or doesn’t happen – to a fictional character needs to pass the plausibility test: Is this something that can be reasonably expected to happen – or not happen – to this character under these circumstances?

For example, it’s the worst of “magical thinking” on the part of a writer to send characters into fistfights and bring them out uninjured. At the very least, people who engage in fisticuffs get face and/or body bruises and/or cuts, broken hand and/or facial bones, and loosened teeth.

It also takes time for a person to recover from the damage incurred by a fight: Cuts take days to heal; bruises take weeks to fade, bones take weeks to months to mend. Hand-to-hand fighting also affects the muscles and joints, so your fictional pugilist will be acutely achy for some time afterwards. A period of recuperation must be reflected in the activities of the character for the foreseeable fictional future.

Not all fictional characters need to engage in physical violence to experience pain and rack up scars: Age takes its toll, too. For example, most of the main and strong secondary characters in Irish Firebrands are middle-aged or a little older. They exhibit the usual range of ability and appearance for persons who are 50 to 62 years of age: some are quite athletic and others are less so, but all of them show their age in one way or another (if only because of graying hair or baldness, crows’ feet, and a bit of middle-age spread), and they are susceptible to environmental exposure and accidents.

Female main character Lana Pedersen falls and bloodies her nose, and she also comes down with a cold, but it’s Dillon Carroll, the male main character in Irish Firebrands (and one of the oldest characters) who really takes a beating in the book. He lives an active life as a journalist, but he’s still susceptible to sunburn and sore joints; he gets winded climbing a mountain, and his legs ache when he descends the steep slope; he receives bruises and scrapes from flying debris and suffers temporary hearing loss when he happens to be in the vicinity of a suicide bomber. In addition, both characters suffer mental pain from long-term, untreated psychological problems.

It may be a temptation to avoid the built-in consequences of aging by writing only about youthful beings, but just because characters are young – whether or not they’re human – doesn’t mean they’re immune to injury and bodily or mental pain. Even Superman had his own painful run-ins with kryptonite. Inexperienced young people often do behave as if they were invulnerable to physical and psychological harm, but eventually the bumps and bruises of real life catch up with them. Realistically portraying the thorny path to maturity for a young person has innumerable fictional examples: Scarlett O’Hara of Gone With the Wind comes to mind, as does Medb McManus, the strong secondary teenage character in Irish Firebrands.

The Right Character is one who is believable, and that means he or she has an Achilles’ heel. Give him or her eyeglasses to wear, a medication to take, a phobia, and show readers how he or she gets some of his or her visible and invisible scars. The root of the word “novel” comes from the concept of “new:” in novels, imperfect characters experience renewal through overcoming their imperfections.

And that’s the real reason why we want to read about them.

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The Ten Rights of Medicalized Fiction (Intro):

What Every Indie Author Needs to Know.

Medicalized fiction is not the same as medical fiction.

Medical fiction deals primarily with one or more healthcare issues, whatever the genre of the story, and whether or not healthcare professionals are main characters. Medicalized fiction consists of any story in which characters are born or give birth, die of injury or disease, if they get into fights or wars, eat, sleep, work or strenuously exert themselves, feel emotions – in fact, if they engage in any activity at all (because if characters are doing nothing, there’s no reason to write anything) – their author will need to address the physical and psychological toll these activities take on their bodies and minds.

It doesn’t matter if the writing is about humans or animals or aliens – life leaves its marks on “real” beings, and plausibly constructed characters, whatever their genetic origins or abodes in the Parallel Universe, need to show those scars. This is what medicalizes fiction.

“But it’s just entertainment,” some may object. “And what about artistic license?” Most authors would like to reach the largest possible audience, and if this happens, erroneous writing may become the vector that makes some serious damage go viral (in more ways than one). If you’re writing something that’s too loosely based on The Bathroom Barber-Surgeon’s Pocket Guide to Gallbladder Removal, you must understand there is a potential for harm from wrong information disseminated in fiction.

This harm could come to laypersons, many of whom have absolutely no background in health issues, but who believe that what they’re reading is accurate, and may then mistakenly mismanage their own health, which could conceivably result in legal liability. But even if nobody ever tries to sue, harm can still come to an author’s reputation, because healthcare professionals are also people who like to be entertained by fiction, but if they encounter flagrant fiddling with known facts, their suspension of disbelief will be destroyed, and they may close the cover (or shut off the show, if the problem is with a screenplay) in disgust.

The origin of the “Rights.”

I’m a retired Registered Nurse, and I’ve always thought that Nursing would be an ideal occupation for the obsessive-compulsive, because the job demands that nurses repeatedly wash their hands and “check up” on things: on the doctor, the pharmacist, the patient, and, of course, themselves. This requirement is intended to minimize the possibility of medication errors, and although no person and no system is perfectly foolproof, it usually works.

One of the ways nurses do this checking is to follow the Five Rights of Medication Administration: the Right Patient, the Right Drug, the Right Dose, the Right Time, and the Right Route of administration. Our discussion of how to write good medicalized fiction will incorporate and build on that list:

Right Character
Right Drug
Right Dose
Right Time
Right Route
Right Damage
Right Disease
Right Demise
Right Rescue
Right Writing

We’ll dissect each of these “Rights” as they apply to fiction, so stay tuned to this blog!




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