Five Things that Make a Good Medical Thriller

It might seem like anyone can write a medical thriller – you just need a computer and an imagination, after all. But, in reality, the medical thriller genre is a genre primed for the trite, the cheesy, and the downright ridiculous. In other words, not every novel is a bestseller (or, really, a seller at all).

It’s simple – there are certain things an author must possess to write effectively in any area. But, because medical thrillers involve more intricacies and technicalities than other specialties, it’s a category that requires a certain finesse and a lot of knowledge.

Ultimately, five things that make a good medical thriller include:

  1. In-Depth Comprehension: There’s an old adage in the writing world – “Write what you know.” This hold true no matter the plotline. It’s the reason people like John Grisham, a lawyer by trade, writes so accurately about law. Of course there are exceptions – Stephen King probably doesn’t have real life experience with dead pets that come back to life – but, overall, an author needs to know what they’re talking about.

    Medical thrillers must involve in-depth comprehension of medicine and comprehension of viruses, anatomy, and scientific possibilities (as well as limitations). Authors like Robin Cook and Tess Gerritsen are retired physicians – this helps them write so convincingly. It comes down to the adage again. Either write what you know or people will know that you’re clueless.

  2. Not too Much Technical Jargon: As important as medical knowledge is, there can be too much of a good thing. This is especially true in regards to overtly technical language or complicated concepts – people turn to medical thrillers to escape, the find entertainment, to enjoy their downtime; they don’t turn to them to revert back to high school biology. Some people reading medical thrillers may be well versed in the area, but the majority of people don’t know mitosis from meiosis. A good writer considers this and focuses on writing a novel, not a textbook.
  3. The Introduction of Relatable Characters: Some elements that make a good medical thriller are across-the-board elements that make a good book regardless of genre. One of these is the introduction of characters who are relatable – they need to be people readers enjoy. Readers don’t need to love them, per say, but they need to feel something (even if it’s contempt). A story that keeps moving forward is also instrumental. Plots that are too slow, too convoluted, or too predictable leave the reader disappointed. There needs to be some complexity (and not everything that happens needs to be shocking), but there must be some elements of ease and surprise.
  4. Originality: One of the difficulties of writing a medical thriller is that a lot of things have been done before – contagious viruses, bioengineered bacteria, criminal doctors who not only take your insurance but your organs too. Rewriting the same plot isn’t often effective: readers thirst for something that’s never been done. The good news is medicine is an ever-evolving field and that opens the doors for novelists. Genetics, for instance, is a field that has exploded in the last decade. One thing that’s attractive to readers who love medical thrillers? Clones.
  5. Enjoyment of the Story: The seasoned reader is very attuned to whether a novelist actually enjoyed writing their novel (or did it begrudgingly as part of a contract). A good medical thriller is exciting and suspenseful, but it’s also fun. The enthusiasm of the writer dances off the pages and into the reader’s imagination. The pages are well crafted and designed to leave the reader wanting more.

Perhaps that’s the number one thing that makes a good medical thriller: the reader knows they need to go to bed but they keep telling themselves, “Five more minutes.”