Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How real do you want it?

What I'm reading: Last Call, by James Grippando

What I'm writing: Chapter 34

One of my crit partners said he had a problem with one of the elements of the story. There's a major plot thread that deals with a company dealing with research for treatments for "orphan" diseases. Those are the sorts of rare diseases that don't get much attention, because not 'enough' people suffer from them to make it profitable to do the research to treat them. The company I name doesn't exist, of course. Neither does the disease. My rationale was that if I used a real disease, I'd have to come up with some kind of treatment option that might actually work, and it might give readers the wrong idea. However, my crit partner (and at least one other person he discussed it with) said it would bother them. They didn't mind that I made up the names of towns, restaurants, or shopping centers, but they wanted a real disease.

This really confused me. Enough so that I was bold enough to try to make a survey. Will you take a minute and let me know what you think? If you want to elaborate, you can comment here, but I'd like to get an overall view of "yes/no/don't care".
Click Here to take survey


Keri Ford said...

In all honesty, Terry. I wouldn't know whether it was a real disease or not when reading. It's doubtful I would go researching for it...unless I wanted to make sure I didn't get it!

I'm in the don't care category. Sorry, probably not much help!

Nancy Naigle said...

Helloooooo that's why they call it Fiction! I think it's perfectly acceptable to have a made-up disease, especially with that whole "orphan disease" focus. Very cool.

How many times have you heard published authors say, write YOUR best book? How many times have you seen editors shake their head and mumble when critique groups are mentioned?

Go with your gut. FINISH THE DOGGONE BOOK!!! Write the book YOU have in mind, not that of your CPs. They have their own books to finish.

I'd love to read it.

Nancy Naigle
Drewryville, VA

Nina Pierce said...

Terry, it's fiction. A made up disease seems like it would work just fine. Then of course there would be fictional research and cures. But you'd have to make it realistic in the world you've created. Perhaps the more important question is whether you've sufficiently explained the disease, so the reader is able to believe what you're telling them. I mean, aren't we writers all about the made-up? Good luck.

Katie Reus said...

I wouldn't know if a disease was real either. In a way, I think I'd prefer it anyway b/c what if you wrote about a 'real' disease that only had treatment options, then a year from now, it's cured or something. This way you have more options to be creative. *cough* Uh, hello, it's fiction, lol

I'm in the 'keep the fake disease' category :)

Terry Odell said...

Thanks everyone -- and because my crit partner writes fiction, too, I was surprised at the comment about wanting the disease to be real. I countered with the same comments I'm seeing here, but we never fully agreed. I got to wondering if I was missing something.

Mary Ann Chulick said...

Interesting, I had a similar situation in my book "Missed Match" - I really wanted to write about dermatomyositis, which is a real disease - there's a good treatment but no real cure. I went the other way and had my hero-from-the-future reveal the cure.

However I think your way of making up a fictitious disease is an excellent way to handle it. I agree with the "hello, it's fiction" rationale.

Michelle Houston said...

I'm one that owuld lean the other way. If it was a real disease, I would be pulled out of the story. Fictional disease is the way to go if you are going to find a "cure". If you are going with a magical means of curing it, then it wouldn't matter which way you go. But a real medical cure, I'd go fictional disease. With how often biomedical research comes up with new things, it would be impossible to find the latest information, let alone have it stand the test of time in a story.


Anita Birt said...

Terry, in my opinion you have to avoid naming a real disease unless you have access to a lot of medical knowledge about it. Even then you would have to dance around a possible cure. Someone reading your book might have or know of someone with the disease and believe there is a cure.
Am I making sense? There are televion viewers who believe they are watching real life while viewing a sitcom. They might read your book and run to their doctor to show them the cure you have come up with. Enough already. Good luck with your story.

Terry Odell said...

Mary Ann, Michelle & Anita - thanks for chiming in. I'm definitely with you (which is why I wrote it the way I did). I'll be curious to see if my CP pops by and reads these comments. Right now, the survey is definitely saying "made up disease."

Maggie Toussaint said...

I guess I'm the lone wolf howling in the darkness here. I'd prefer a real disease to a made up one. I think couching the problem in a real disease gives readers a framework and an emotional basis that's linked with reality. You can still have something different, say like an atypical presentation of a disease. To me, not bothering to specify a disease seems a bit, I don't know, maybe, lazy is the right word.

Just my two cents.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Maggie -- the issue rose for me when there had to be a treatment -- the plot thread was about a company doing the clinical studies.

I did name the disease, but I made up the name, mostly for the reasons Michelle and Anita mentioned.

It's not a disease that involves any of the major players in the book; rather it's the research and clinical study results that provide the plot momentum.

Theresa Ragan said...

I am definitely in the I DON'T CARE! Movies do it all the time. I agree, it is fiction. GO FOR IT!!!

And I love your idea. Can't wait to read the book when it comes out!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Theresa --
I had a 'chat' with the CP in question who said although it occurred to him that people might accept a fictional disease as real, it never dawned on him that they might believe the cure was real as well. He also said, "Ironic, isn't it, that I, who write about entirely invented worlds, have the audacity to call you out for making stuff up."

It's made for some lively discussion, I will say.

Terry Odell said...

And a comment on another post reminded me of a quote from Alicia Rasley's workshop handout: "Fiction is true, just not real."

Anonymous said...

Terry, I don't think it really matters. Medical science is "discovering" new diseases all the time. Most of us have limited medical knowledge and would have no idea whether or not a disease and treatment are real as long as the treatment development is based on established scientific methods. Jerome

Jill James said...

Terry, I like fictional diseases in my fiction. The world of real diseases is too sad for me to spend my time reading about it. Also, there is the suspension of disbelief theory. If a character has cancer I'm not going to believe they are cured by the end of the book, but a fictional disease can be fictionally cured.

Ray said...

I wouldn't care if it were a real disease, but I would look it up just to be sure. Not while reading, but during my computer time.

I don't get upset about made up diseases, but I do get upset when people take a hand full of Tylenol or Ibuprofen. If you eat Tylenol by the handful it would be wise to have your will updated first.

Ibuprofen comes in strengths four times as potent as the over the counter version.

Bad form especially if the character washes them down with booze.

Made up diseases and made up cures are much safer.


Peg Brantley said...

I agree with Anita Bert. A REAL disease requires REAL and SOLID knowledge. Much better to stick with what you know . . . er . . . don't know.


Terry Odell said...

Ray -- thanks for catching up on all the past blogs! That's dedication.

Peg - thanks for your comment. Given we don't even meet anyone with the disease on the page, per se, I think the fictional approach is still the one that will work. I had to learn a lot about how clinical studies are done, and that part I hope I got right.