What Makes a Medical Thriller? by Jordyn Redwood
As a writer of medical thrillers, I thought this would be an easy task to blog about what makes a medical thriller until I actually began to think of those things that distinct a medical thriller from other types of novels in the same genre (legal, military, etc.).
Here’s what I’ve determined to be essential when labeling a book a medical thriller.
1. It must have one of these three elements:
a. The leading character(s) is a medical person.
b. The setting is a hospital, clinic, etc.
c. There is an inherent medical mystery.
2. There is a moral question:
If you look at some of the well-known medical thriller authors like Robin Cook, Michael Palmer, Michael Crichton and Harry Kraus to name a few—at the heart of the book is an ethical dilemma. In Crichton’s Jurassic Park—is genetic engineering wise? Cook’s Acceptable Risk—was a toxin responsible for the behavior of those accused of being witches during the Salem Witch Trials? Kraus’s Stainless Steal Hearts—is experimenting on aborted fetuses ethical?
3. They take a known medical situation and put a twist on it.
This is what, perhaps, makes a medical thriller so scary. You can understand the potential for it to happen—particularly when the news highlights stories that you’ve read in a book. Here’s a recent headline that got my writer’s wheels spinning. South Korean officials found pills from China filled with crushed infant remains. At first I thought, surely—this is one of those internet conspiracy theories but I found it referenced in more than one reliable source. What do you think of that? What medical plot could be born from this true life story? I’m keeping mine a secret—for now.
My debut novel, Proof, examines the real life possibility of DNA testing setting a guilty man free. What does the criminal justice system do when the gold standard of criminal prosecution fails? What does the victim do?
4. It is helpful, possibly mandatory, to have a medical background.
To pen an authoritative medical manuscript, medical training and having worked in the medical field are paramount to giving the manuscript an authentic feel. Writing from a medical angle is difficult. Interpreting the language, knowing those special nuances, and knowing how these systems work is essential to a good novel. If you’re trying to write a medical thriller and have never been involved in the medical field—I highly suggest you pay a medical type to review your work. Of those well-known medical thriller writers—I couldn’t think of one that didn’t have a medical background. Can you?
What do you think are the essential components of a medical thriller? Can you think of a well-known medical thriller writer that didn’t have a medical background?