B Plot

Thursday, June 17, 2021 plot characterisation medical trauma




I write romances and strive to create realistic characters. Yes, I do write grand romantic gestures, but I lean on the side of plausible—a romantic dinner, a public declaration of affection at a party, and so on. One aspect that I incorporate in my writing is medical conditions.

Characters can have an array of medical conditions, from an illness to injury to a genetic disorder. Some medical conditions are life-threatening, others require regular maintenance with physiotherapy or counselling, medication or surgery, and others have no upkeep.

Characters are more than a medical condition. Maybe your MC’s knee is busted, and they can’t run anymore (at all, or they are significantly slower). The damaged knee impairs your MC’s ability to catch the antagonist. But the damaged knee can also impact character development. The obvious impact is on personal frustration. Perhaps the MC enjoyed going on 10km runs but can’t anymore. Perhaps there’s a constant pain in the knee that keeps the MC up on rainy nights. These developments drag down the character with regret, frustration, and anger. Anger that they can’t do what they enjoy doing.

Let’s flip the situation. The medical condition may have obligated your MC to change hobbies. The broader range of experience gives them more tools to address the plot. Let’s say your MC can’t go on runs because of a bum knee, but they do Tai Chi or ride horses or swim. If a person does Tai Chi, they might have improved powers of focus and emotional self-regulation. If they ride horses, they work different muscle groups. Working with large animals also gives them a different perspective on life. And, if they swim 2k a day, well, they have incredible endurance.

My point is, there are opportunities to write more balanced characters in which medical conditions aren’t uniquely portrayed as impediments. I’ve known many people who have experienced extremely traumatic events. They’ve survived depression, suicidal episodes, and PTSD. It was brutal for them to live the experience, work through it, and find ways of managing it daily. However, outside of the episodes, they gained profound insight. They’ve gained insight and wisdom and (some, not all) have turned their experiences into products and services to help others.

It’s easy to write the flip side where a medical condition is motivation for revenge. It’s a little more nuanced to weave in medical conditions as a source of positive motivation and resilience.

In my fantasy series, I have a General named Roderick. His first wife died, and he became an alcoholic. Whenever there’s an event that reminds him of his first wife, he lapses into a bender for days, sometimes weeks. The alcoholism has significant impacts on his personal life and job, not to mention the city he’s charged to protect. Throughout the fantasy series, his alcoholism comes up, and there are times where he has more insight when he’s blind drunk. There are moments when Roderick is drunk, and another soldier steps up into a leadership role. The second soldier takes a radically different strategy than what Roderick would have done, and there are different consequences on the battle and the town. Some consequences are beneficial, and others aren’t.

In my contemporary sports romance, Seven Points of Contact (release Fall 2021), Jonas has a knee injury that keeps him from playing a sport he loves. The injury weighs down his self-esteem, and he finds himself on a trajectory he didn’t want to take. His life takes a few more twists and turns, and after a series of devastating events, he returns to his hometown. He regrets and finds strength. Without his injury, he wouldn’t have had the skills and experiences to help Miranda, his love interest.


What medical conditions afflict your MC? How do they impact the plot and character development?

Reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron to continue to conversation.

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