Monday, January 17, 2011

Save an Ambulance, Write a Paramedic

images (2)Our MCs are by nature the plucky type, faced with overwhelming odds and certain death in a desperate attempt to save the world, or just their small part of it.  Maybe yours is the literary hero, the complicated, damaged soul whose struggles are more internal than external.  Maybe he’s battling a drug habit or coping with a dying spouse.  Whatever the nature of your character, whether she’s a spunky teen risking life and limb to save her classmates from the latest zombie/vampire/werewolf massacre, or a broken down, middle-aged man ignoring that tightness in his chest one time too often, there is one truth most MCs share.

At some point, they’re probably going to need an ambulance.

My book, the one I’m querying now, is set on a fictional planet, but it’s close enough to earth that I had to research everything from global military tactics to high school track and field.  The point is, outside of what I do and what I’ve done, I don’t have hands-on knowledge of a whole lot of professions.  As writers, we need to know what our characters know.  If our MC watches the paramedics do CPR on her husband, we need to know just what that look like, the same as we might need to know what getting arrested and booked looks like, or what planning a surprise attack on a superior military force looks like.

I know from my job that most people don’t have the slightest idea what paramedics do or why.  As writers, we tend to be more informed about the things we don’t encounter in our daily lives than most people, mainly because we’re naturally curious, and part of the satisfaction of writing is being able to learn about these new worlds.  But I’ll admit, most of what I know about the legal system in practice still comes from Law and Order.  Is that going to cut it if my MC goes to trial?

I once testified as an “expert” on EMS (Emergency Medical Services), though I don’t know if I like that label.  I thought it might be useful as a writing tool to have a regular feature on the ins and outs of just what happens after you (or your characters) call 911 (or 999 in the UK).  Maybe your MC is in a restaurant and someone’s choking.   What do you do when the Heimlich doesn’t work, or if the woman’s pregnant?  Maybe your MC was in a car accident and has injuries.  What are the presentations?  What’s the treatment? 

Sometimes it’s just enough to write, “the paramedics took Dad away that afternoon.”  A simple statement like that can have a power no amount of detail can top.  Other times, the detail can help, especially if you maybe want to ground your urban fantasy or paranormal thriller with realistic, if mundane, details.

Anyway, it’s something I’d like to try.  If I get enough feedback on it, I’ll make it a permanent feature.  Let me know what you think.  Also, if you have any specifics questions or topics you want me to cover, comment or email me.  Check my “Full Contact” page for my email.


  1. That's the cool thing about us writers, most of us have or have had many other professions. In my life I've been a housepainter, a nurse's aid, a manager for a glass company and an employee at an animal hospital. Now all we have to do is find a way to easily pick one another's brains. Next time I need a paramedic, I know where to go:) Thanks!

  2. Well I have to say, my brother being an EMT, your symbol caught my eye. Yes, most folks don't know what happens or why things do not happen. Personally I think it a very worthy under taking. :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  3. You've raised an interesting dilemma. I guess we can write what we think we know in a first draft but do the research in the second? Though, of course the research may change the scene and plot of the book!

  4. I like it. I always find myself stopping to look up specific details.

  5. Howdy! Re-followed your blog after I noted you were among my newest followers.

    I'm dating a paramedic, so he tolerates all my ridiculous questions. I'd love to see another source of information though, so I think you should do the special!

  6. Thanks, Everyone for the comments. I'm glad you think this is a good idea. Already working on the first post for next week

  7. An interesting idea. I have a friend who is a paramedic, so I tend to pepper her with questions if I need answers, but I'd be interested to see what you have to say.

    You probably won't find someone doing this with law. I have a paralegal degree and have worked in courts, but I'm not a lawyer, so I can't say anything. Anything I'd post could be considered "legal advice" and, since I'm not a lawyer, giving legal advice is against the law. Plus, the law varies so much from state to state that even I have to research it. (Don't even get me started on Louisiana.) Medicine, though, that's universal. Unless you're going new age...bah. Never mind. Can't wait for your feature!

  8. Thanks for the comment Delia. Anything I post on the topic will definitely have the disclaimer "This is should not be in anyway construed as medical advice." I don't know who'd take medical advice from a blog about writing, but you never know.