Sunday, September 16, 2012

Doctors as characters versus real people, or how to write a likeable doctor

Happy Sunday.

Here’s a snippet of a recent conversation with a friend:
“I’m writing a novel, and my hero is a doctor. I work in the accounting field, and know nothing about doctors or medicine. What’s the best way to find out what a doctor does?”
(upslanted eyebrows and pleading look at this point from friend).

Ever think about character careers? What's high powered? What's wimpy? What draws you to a book? Does the word “doctor” in the title get your engine revving?
Working in the medical field, I have to say medical personnel are sexy. What they do is sexy, and if they look good doing it, so much the better.
But what is it about doctors that we like? What’s true, and what’s not on the page?

“They have interesting jobs,” you say.

True, but not everything is glamour. A lot of it is drudgery, especially in the middle of the night. In a book, ever see a bleary-eyed doctor drag in at 2 a.m., cow lick sticking up and shirt buttoned crooked? Not likely. Our hero charges in gallantly in time to save the patient. He’s kind, witty, and doesn’t make snide comments to the staff. After all, we want the reader to like Dr. Tall dark and handsome, right?

“Okay,” you say, “but the doctor has that saving lives thing going on.”

True. But in between is a lot of day-to-day paperwork and rounds to see grumpy patients. Some doctors—like pathologists—don’t see live patients, but can make excellent characters. Even Emergency Department doctors don’t see a lot of life-saving action. Mostly it’s like a giant walk-in clinic interspersed with the occasional car accident, stabbing, or cardiac arrest.

What if you want to write a character and know nothing about his/her particular career?

If you can’t write what you know, one word: research.

Now I know some of you have broken out in a cold sweat, the likes of which are only exceeded by the word "synopsis." I’m not proposing you check out a hundred pounds of medical books from the public library. Most of your book will likely not require medical scenarios—doctors have personal lives too.

For the occasional vignette or life-saving scene, consult with a professional, someone who's had a front-row seat to see doctors in action. I can't emphasize this enough. There are sites available to do this, or maybe you know someone in the medical field who can answer your specific questions. It will save you time, give a more authentic flavor to your story, and have the reader turning the pages instead of saying “That could never happen!”

So to my friend with the pleading expression, I smiled and replied, “What would you like to know?”

Want to read about hot doctors in action? Check out the Meredith Medical Center serial in Everything Erotic.
LINK: Everything Erotic