Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Note to Writers: Diabetes And Drama

I was watching a show on Netflix, and in the opening scene there was a character who had diabetes. He was shaking, and sweating, and fumbling for his glucose tablets.


No, that's not what happened. The character was showing signs of severe low blood sugar, and of course he treated himself with insulin. Because, that's what all diabetics do when they are low... on TV.

As a writer, I can understand different ways diabetes can fit into a plot.

-- Syringes freak out most mere mortals
-- "Drink the juice, Shelby!"
-- Insulin vials can be spiked with a toxin, or poison, or...

Besides, some symptoms of low blood sugar, like sweating and shaking, look good on camera. So do syringes. I mean, they are sharp, and go into the skin, and ewwwww!  Maybe writers don't realize how high blood sugar--which really is treated with insulin--could fit into a plot, too.

For example... A character at a restaurant drinks 9 glasses of iced tea during one meal. I, ahem, actually did this a week before I was diagnosed with diabetes. I drank nine glasses of iced tea, and three glasses of water, and I was still thirsty. Excessive thirst is, well, excessive. Excessive can be interesting in a story.

Maybe a character finished three water bottles in the parking lot, walked into a building only to find out the water cooler is empty. Maybe there some sort of emergency and the water is cut off to the whole building, so the character grabs a flower vase, flings the flowers on the floor, and drinks water from a vase.

How many different ways could excessive thirst play a role in a crime drama? Something nasty in the water? Foxglove flowers in the vase poisoned the water with digitalis?

Here's a thought, have a character test their blood sugar. Blood always looks good on camera. If you need both panic and insulin to be part of your storyline, just make the meter look like this...

Look, the meter says HI.  Isn't that sweet? Hi Nano. Hi back. Oh... wait. That's not a friendly Hi at all.

That HI means holy @#^% my blood is turning into pancake syrup. A possible dramatic reaction to seeing a HI on a meter might be akin to seeing the toaster is on fire. (I, ahem, yelped pretty loud.) That reading will upset anyone with diabetes, real or imaginary. After seeing a HI on the meter, and flipping out, NOW the character can fumble for an insulin syringe.

Your job as a writer is to invite your audience to suspend their disbelief and enter into a fictional world you created. The more reality you bring into your fictional world, the easier it is for your audience to join you. If your character is talking about pine trees, and pointing to an oak tree, the audience backs away from your fictional world. Eating an orange, and calling it a banana, will do the same thing.

To wrap up... Low blood sugar is treated with candy, not insulin. If a character is shaking and sweating and nervous, they need a snack.

High blood sugar is treated with insulin. High blood sugar triggers excessive thirst. Feel free to use out of control thirst, a meter reading HI, to establish the need for insulin. After that, go ahead with your insulin based plot line. Your story will be more believable. Remember, the audience wants to believe your fictive world is real, so play fair and we will join you in your story.

Now, go write something amazing. I'll be watching.

1 comment:

  1. This is so true. Thank you for sharing. If diabetes was more accurate behind the camera, the output on diabetes would be so different, and hopefully more accurate. I guess we need to keep advocating, and eventually a movie, book or TV show will come out with a main character who is accurately diabetic.



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