As a writer, one always questions if a character is being true to their own nature or whether the author is projecting his or her own moral belief system or code of action upon them.
To be clear, you don’t want the latter. That’s called Author Intrusion. 1
Sometimes, however, it seems impossible to keep the author’s world from encroaching on their writing. And when it happens to me, I try to mitigate its effects by relegating it to the world of research.
This week’s topic of research has been healthcare.2
Or, more specifically, medicine in the late 1920s.
It really is a grim subject.
For example, in 1929:
- There were no sulfa drugs or penicillin to fight infection; if your body couldn’t fight it, you were doomed.
- While germ theory was recognized, sterilization was haphazard: surgical equipment was usually boiled while thermometers were used from patient to patient without any sort of sterilization.
- Any sort of surgery often resulted in sepsis and death.
- Severely broken bones generally required amputation.
- Common childhood illnesses were often deadly: Chicken Pox, Rubella, Diptheria, Mumps.
- Although a TB vaccine was being used successfully in Europe, tuberculosis remained a deadly disease in the United States; the US did not approve the vaccine for use until the 1950s.
- Pharmaceuticals were not regulated. As a result, many were sold that were, if you were lucky, merely ineffective; if you were not, they were often fatal.
- Other common deadly diseases included Diabetes, which at the time had no effective means of treatment, despite the discovery of insulin in 1921, and Cancer.
Nothing like a walk through medicine in the 1920s3 to make one feel better about hospitalization in the 2010s.
Not to mention all the potential destruction I, as Author, have at my disposal to set upon my poor characters.
Watch out, Rose and Harold. Trouble is a-brewin’…
- That’s not to say that a character can’t have traits that reflect those of the author’s as long as they also remain true to the actions and decisions exhibited by the character.
- My MIL has been very ill this past week. I find it hard to write fiction during such circumstances. Hence the research. It keeps the mind busy, and counts as forward movement on the work-in-progress, without requiring any real creativity.
- Despite this grim picture, the decade was not devoid of advances. The discovery of vitamins and their importance to the body’s daily functions advanced the administration of cod liver oil (a source of vitamin D) in homes across the nation. A serum was developed for Scarlet Fever, reducing the impact of that disease. And while pharmaceuticals were not required to be tested prior to public release, the American Medical Association required testing along with their seal of approval on any drugs being advertised in their journal.