On Technical Genre Fiction by Glenn Parris M. D.
What could be easier to sell than a good conspiracy? Unfortunately, the public seems to be only too willing to accept the worst of celebrities, politicians and our institutions. I say “unfortunately” only in the context of the real world that we live in, but as creators of fiction, this trend is a bonanza. As mystery and thriller writers, we fuel the fire. This genre probably leads every other, with the possible exception of romance, in books, television and movies. The adage, “write what you know” certainly holds true if you want to suspend disbelief about a story.
As a physician, I find that wrapping a good lie in some truth and solid medical methods is the best way to reel an audience in. Everyone wants a peek behind the curtain, regardless whether you’re writing police/detective thrillers, or medical/science novels.
One of the most fascinating phenomena that I’ve noticed about writing in the medical thriller genre is the fact that readers rarely question the aspects of the story that are truly fabricated. In fact, because some of these devices are so frequently used, readers actually expect them. What’s interesting is that when you introduce true facts, they are often met with skepticism. Many readers are reluctant to accept that which is not familiar. This is probably a good thing, as it keeps the writer honest, however, unless you have a reader who is willing to verify some of the technical material included in the story, some readers are likely to put the book down, finding it unbelievable! So be careful here, you can go too far.
Avoiding information dumps also takes practice. Sometimes it takes fresh eyes (a beta reader) or refreshed eyes (marinating the work in your hard drive for weeks or months) to nuance and wordsmith the prose upon review. The reader wants to be convinced that the characters know what they’re doing, but they want the story to flow like fine wine. Sips sometimes, gulps at others, but always good to the last drop!
This leads to another very interesting phenomena. Editors will often ask writers to delete technically accurate passages in a story because they feel that they don’t push the story forward or the audience won’t understand their meaning. Editors know what works, so most of their in-put really is invaluable.
There is a big challenge here. When they duplicate this process, the traditional publishing team is often thrilled, but selling a “me-to” story by a new writer is a big risk. As I see it, the problem is that editors and agents really know what has worked, and they know this very well. So well in fact, that they think they can separate the wheat from the chaff in as little as one paragraph, let alone one page. Hint; you don’t really get “the first five pages” to make your case as is so often talked about. Agents and editors are bombarded by so many submissions that they are overwhelmed at cattle calls like writers club conventions. To impress, you need revolutionary and spectacular! Still, to sell, agents and editors have to compare a fresh new story with something old and familiar. A fine line to type.
The trick is to come up with something truly different, but with a familiar pace, predictable plot points, character arcs, and themes that can be definable and describable to publishers. My best advice, as a writer, is to take your time. Don’t rush! Use your experience, but do your research. Even an expert needs to research and refresh his knowledge. Knowing your subject is a great starting point, but to really dazzle, you have to make the technical foundation accurate, but cradle the story, keeping the focus on the characters, their motivation and personal problems.
In medicine for example, whether you’re a hematologist, cardiologist or surgeon, you have to paint the background, but avoid making that specialty the focus of the story. This is what many professionals do in real-life. The difference is that in a scientific lecture, medical talk, or police procedural in-service, you’re dealing with an audience that has come (or has been sent) to actually learn technical material. Not so in fiction. Readers want to get the sense that they are seeing the real deal, but they aren’t really that invested in learning that level of technical material. Make the plot or character drive the story.
I think plot drives action/adventure, big concept stories best, but character sets really memorable work apart from the crowd. In more intimate stories like memoirs, mysteries and thrillers; characters drive more of the emotion and sense of action. In either case, the characters have to be relatable or no one cares. The more you write, the better you get at developing the early hook and self-editing. That’s when you’re on the road to real writing success.
Glenn Parris, M.D.
Brief bio and links:
As a board certified rheumatologist, Glenn Parris has practiced medicine in the northeast Atlanta suburbs for over 20 years. He has been writing for nearly as long.
Originally from New York City, Parris migrated south to escape the cold and snow, but fell in love with the southern charms of Georgia and Carla, his wife of nearly 23 years. He now writes cross-genre in medical mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. The Renaissance of Aspirin is his debut novel.
Website URL: www.GlennParris.com
The Renaissance of Aspirin book trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCS6N_lzG6A
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