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Writing the next best selling medical thriller and how to level the competition.

By John Reese, May 13 2019 01:28PM

Novels like Coma by Robin Cook, The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton and Life Support, by Tess Gerritsen have made a major contribution to our continued fascination with medical thrillers. It’s not an easy sub-genre to successfully write in. An author needs to be well informed and prepared to do extensive research whilst the overarching thriller genre suffers from an avalanche of formulaic writing.


In some ways, thrillers are a balancing act. Readers want plenty of forward momentum and action but they’re overwhelmingly drawn to humankind's propensity for deceit coupled with our inherent need to see good prevail. These are ironclad conventions which have stood the test of literary time but medical thrillers and medical crime or conspiracy thrillers take us that little bit further. Cerebral and suspenseful the good ones elicit heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety but they are unique in that they often have an unknown element which can’t be quantified. Whether it’s technology, some rare bacteria or manufactured infectious disease, we hope our fearless protagonist will win the day but something without a conscience doesn’t conform to our expectations and this is where bestselling authors work their particular kind of magic.


For new writers wanting to combine medical writing with the thriller genre the authors at the top of their game are daunting competition. Many come from a medical background but there is a way of levelling the playing field. Medical thrillers and medical crime or conspiracy thrillers tap into our fear of illness. Whilst a full-on international espionage thriller might feel dispersed and intangible because it’s outside our sphere of experience illness is something that touches us all. We expect to be treated but the fear that we can’t leaves us contemplating our own mortality. Extensive research can make up for a shortfall in an authors medical knowledge but there is no substitute for writing that emphasises our shared fears and humanity. One author who has done just this is Sam Carter with his debut novel Dying To Live. You can find our review HERE.




Following in the footsteps of greats like Robin Cook, Michael Palmer and Carol Cassella he has certainly done his homework and new authors venturing into the genre would do well to follow suit. If you are currently in the process of writing a medical thriller or about to pen your opening chapter your thoughts are always welcome and as always we hope our latest post has created a spark of reflection.




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