Wednesday, August 26, 2015

H is for Health and Hospitals

Paula thinks about our characters’ health problems.

Many of our UK 'soap operas' frequently have either some major health issue for one of the characters, or a dramatic hospital scene where a character hovers between life and death or seems to be half paralysed for life.

Miraculously, most of them recover the following week – and everyone seems to accept this! None of them seem to go through any post-op trauma or repeated visits to the hospital for physio or some other therapy.

For non-soap writers, this doesn’t work, unfortunately. I’m sure our readers would soon point out that someone who breaks a leg in Chapter 2 wouldn’t be climbing a mountain in Chapter 3 (unless there was a long gap between those chapters). They wouldn't even be driving a car for at least six weeks.

If we want one of our characters to have an accident or some health problem, obviously we need to research the facts carefully (assuming we haven’t experienced the problem ourselves). In the first draft of one of my novels, my heroine broke her ankle. This led to some good (although I say it myself!) scenes between her and the hero, but in the end I had to scrap them all. It can take weeks, if not months, for a broken ankle to heal, and a heroine’s immobilisation for such a long period can slow a story down to crawling pace (literally?)

One ploy we are warned against is the melodramatic reunion of the hero and heroine (at the end of the story) when one of them has an accident or illness that sends the other rushing to their hospital bedside to pledge undying love. This may create a tear-jerkingly sentimental conclusion to a story, but it probably doesn’t resolve any of the issues/problems the hero/heroine might have been having, at least not in a satisfying way.

I’ve only used health/hospital scenes as a plot device in a couple of my novels. In ‘Changing the Future’, the heroine’s son is taken to hospital after a minor accident at school. This actually created more problems for the heroine because she had to rush off to the hospital without telling the hero where she was going, which added to their problems.

In ‘Fragrance of Violets’ which I’m currently editing for re-publication, my heroine goes to see her father (who is dying in a hospice) and makes her peace with him. It’s a life-changing event for her, but comes too late (or so it seems) to resolve any of the problems between her and the hero.

Thus my health/hospital scenes don’t solve anything for my characters but invariably make things harder for them!

I’m curious about what health/hospital incidents other writers use – and how these contribute to their stories. Over to you!

8 comments:

  1. Ah, well as you know, one of my characters being rushed to hospital is crucial to the plot. I did have to do research about his health problem, what treatment he would get and how long he would be in hospital. I had planned for him to be in a week, but in today's world 3 days is about the average. Oh well, he can still convalesce at home for a little while. :) Carol

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    1. Carol, as you say, your character being rushed to hospital was an important part of the plot! And at least he will be convalescing afterwards, not back at work two days later!

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  2. In my current WIP, my heroine is rushed to the hospital about midway through, which speeds up the "meet the parents" issue and enables further character development.

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    1. An interesting way to 'meet the parents'!

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  3. In "This Feels Like Home", Jake (my bull rider) is injured and winds up in the hospital. (Ooops, spoiler!) There is a bedside reunion, however, the heroine was on a plane to Texas before she found out about the accident.

    I did use a hospital scene in "Family Secrets", but it was the heroine's father-in-law who would up in the hospital. But I did use the scene for a dramatic moment between the hero and heroine.

    Neither of these characters were 'magically' healed, either.

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    1. It's the 'miraculous' and/or speedy recoveries that bug me in some stories (and especially in the soap operas!)

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  4. In my time travel draft, the heroine is in a coma while she's living in the past. She reawakens in a posh private health center (paid for by the hero, who has been deported), where she undergoes compassionate counseling and physical therapy until she is well enough to demand to be released. The center fits her with wigs (she had serious injuries to her head and both wrists), which enable her later to sneak past the cops who are staked out outside her apt.
    I think I gave the recovery process enough realistic time. My hubby decries films where the hero has been shot-beat to a pulp-hit by a car--and can keep on going. When he was shot in the shoulder in Vietnam, he had to fight for hours until his unit was rescued, but he could not use his right arm. Fortunately, he's left handed, and could keep on shooting.

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    1. It sounds like you have well researched your heroine's injuries and recovery, Ana.
      And wow, your husband's story is amazing, no wonder he decries the movies that he knows are unrealistic.

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