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!