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Novel Editing: Polio Research, Part 2

If you’re anything like me, you haunt garage sales, thrift stores, and old book stores, and spend hours looking through the books. I drive my family c r a z y!

In my search, I happened upon this medical book for nurses. It’s a university textbook from 1941:. “A Textbook of Medical Diseases for Nurses: Including Nursing Care” by Arthur A. Stevens, A.M., M.D.

I have read biographies and memoirs about people who have encountered polio, combed countless websites about polio, and read non-fiction books by researchers and doctors. My absolute favorite is “Post-Polio Paradox” by Richard L. Bruno.

But I have never secured a book as detailed at this old medical nursing textbook from 1941. In it, I’ve discovered detailed information about how nurses handled polio patients in the hospital. The line that made me smile: “The patient must be kept clean and dry and the undersheet free from wrinkles and crumbs” (147). I’m sure that chore was hard to do with cantankerous kids!

I’m excited to use this book for the novel I’m editing. The main character contracts polio, and although I have researched the subject for several years, it’s always nice to have a medical book close by.

What kinds of books are helpful to you in your research?


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setting the scene

When I started out writing, my scenes were terrible. Well, I just didn’t have anything for the reader to look at.

No alluring sunset that reminded the reader of a mixed bag of Starburst, no grassy knoll within the confines of a wood-post fence enclosure, and certainly no Paint horses with ears pricked forward in earnestness at what she saw.

Setting the scene for your writing requires more than asking six general journalist questions.

Setting the scene takes three things:

  1. Try to Visit the Area You’re Writing About

If you’re writing about a space abduction, then obviously you can just use your imagination. But, if you’re writing historical or even contemporary, then accuracy is key.

I wrote a short story a few years ago that placed in a college contest. A WW2 American home front story. My character was going through the process of canning tomatoes on her farm. Since I grew up on a farm, I knew the location for the setting I was describing. By knowing the location, I scored huge points in accuracy and specifics.

The scenes I’m working on now require much more research because I am not familiar with the location, a hospital in 1942. There’s a trip to my computer desk to search Pinterest and Google for images that suit my setting. Youtube is even great.

What’s even better than Pinterest and Google are the Historical Societies in the area you’re writing about. I contacted the local Historical Society and in just a few questions, I garnered more information than I needed.

2. Talk to the Locals

Sometimes, a quick chat can lead to a lot of helpful information. As writers, it may be an out-of-character thing to step out and ask a question or start a conversation, but if you take a deep breath and just do it, you’ll find it rewarding.

People like to talk about what they know, and it’s so much fun to listen.

For my hospital scene,  I took a trip to Facebook and jumped on the post-polio group that I belong to, and asked a bunch of questions. Pleasantly, I received a lot of helpful and detailed information for what I’m trying to describe. And, I’m thoroughly excited for the scenes I have the privilege of rewriting!

3. Shoot Photos of Everything

Even if you don’t like to take pictures — which I can’t imagine writers not liking — bring your camera anyway. You never know what you might find that will help give you a visual image of what you’re writing about. (A specific chair that you want to incorporate into the kitchen | a restaurant that has the perfect table setting for your character’s first date.) And you can even prop it up at your computer desk for inspiration. Tangible is always good.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about setting each of my scenes. I begin with my main character and take off describing what she sees, and that gives readers something with which to resonate with and enjoy.

So, happy scene writing and making every scene well worth the journey. Let your readers see what you get to see!