Monday, July 15, 2013
Using Modern Medical Knowledge in Fantasy Fiction
Then life smacked me in the head.
My youngest son has had his share of trauma in his life. An injury sustained at the age of 15 left him permanently handicapped. A couple of weeks ago, he reinjured the same leg. Trying to keep up my work schedule along with my usual household tasks and being his nurse/physical assistant these last couple of weeks reminded me of an everyday fact of my writing life that had gotten lost in the familiar.
I gave one of the characters in my current WIP (The Shadows One Walks) my son's devastating injury, and I am able to do that successfully because I am intimately familiar with every aspect of what happened medically at the moment of trauma, and in the weeks/months/years that followed. Because I am aware, I can recreate it believably for my readers without giving all those details that would not have been available in the time period my novel is set.
Modern technology gives us all sorts of fabulous knowledge that allows characters to survive injuries. It's fairly easy to figure out how to kill someone--but how NOT to kill them?? I'm not into torture in my novels, but many of those reading this have watched the third season of Game of Thrones. Ah, poor Theon...or shall I say...never mind. No spoilers! Whoever he is, that torture was time-period appropriate (flaying is an ancient "art,") while utilizing modern medical knowledge to give Theon reactions, both physical and mental, to create the best sort of squick.
How about addiction? PTSD? Anxiety Disorder? Phobias? Downs Syndrome? Dwarfism? These things have always existed, and have been written into stories, but with the knowledge of modern medical science, we know that the deaf/mute aren't idiots. Someone born with Downs Syndrome isn't a Mongoloid. A dwarf isn't a dwarf isn't a dwarf, but can be one of a number of forms of dwarfism, each with its own set of characteristics. Because medical science has given us insight to these things, we can research the difference between disproportionate and proportionate dwarfism and create characters with more realism and depth rather than a stereotype.
Medical science, sometimes primitive, sometimes amazingly sophisticated, has been around a long, long time. For the common folk, each innovation was akin to magic. Even today, medical science knows something works, but perhaps not why. We, however, are less likely to write it off to magic and be content.
This barely scratches the surface of this subject. I'd love to hear what you have to say. Have you used medical science in your writing to get something really right? Have you read it completely wrong? Is it better to skim the surface? Or go into that depth that might, one day, be proven wrong?