1. RobertD
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    RobertD Member

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    Help with developing a critical point in my plot

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by RobertD, Apr 13, 2015.

    Hello Everyone,


    First off, two points I want to make. First, I am not a prolific writer. I made one attempt in my twenties (40 years ago) to write a novel with some very minor success. Now, I am trying again because I have had a story in my head for more than twelve years and four years ago I decided it was time to try and tell the story in another attempt at a fiction novel. I don't expect it to be published, but I want to leave it as a legacy to my sons and daughter who may want to develop or refine it further. Secondly, I don't expect anyone here to write my plot for me. I simply need some suggestions to make one major point more palatable to my readers.


    My story could be described as as “Contagion meets The DaVinci Code”. It mixes fact with fiction and actually uses real historical figures as characters in the story, though purely in a fictional way. Basically, it begins with a prologue which takes place in the fourteenth century. An incredibly virulent disease is wiping out a large number of the population of England and Europe. In the story, a “cure” is discovered by a physician in Italy. The Pope at the time (Pope Clement) has outlawed the so-called cure because it's use will undermine the authority of the Church. However, the cure is genuine and in the right circumstances does in fact stop the disease. It is smuggled to England where the Bishop of London investigates it and finds it to be genuine, only to have the Pope demand that any existence of this “potion” be destroyed. The Bishop has a moral dilemma and secretly seals the last portion of the cure in a manner that will endure the ages. Just before his death, he asks a Church colleague to hide the mixture in a place that can be found if it ever is needed again.


    Fast forward 750 years to modern day London. Construction deep underground has penetrated a burial ground of the victims of this disease from the middle ages. It had laid dormant, but was reanimated and made airborne with contact with the oxygen. The disease is (until this time) an unknown strain of a well known bacteria and no antibiotic or known treatment is having any effect. People are dying by the hundreds. Some are developing symptoms in the morning and dying before night falls. Because this disease has not been seen in Britain for over a hundred years, an American epidemiologist, who is the foremost authority on this particular bacteria, is recruited to lead the effort to find a antimicrobial that will kill this bug. During his initial investigation, he discovers that the land the construction was taking place is owned by the church. He then begins investigating the history of the land and the churches knowledge of it's uses through history.


    Now my problem. I am 250 pages into my novel and have begun reviewing the first few chapters. I just don't think that my readers are going to accept that one of the world's top epidemiologists is going to be spending his efforts investigating real estate instead of testing antipathogens. However, the story has many themes, and one of them is the involvement of the church and it is critical that I get my main protagonist on this trail.


    Please note that I am not a doctor nor have I ever worked in the medical profession. However, I have been writing this novel for over four years now and have done painstaking research into the medical aspect of my story and I am confident that it is sound and plausible. What I am asking here is if anyone has any suggestions about how this American doctor could be steered toward the church as the source of finding a solution, rather than just investigating the land, which is really troubling me.


    I hope I have provided the right background for this question and any replies are very much appreciated.


    Bob
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was schooling myself not to say anything, b/c you posted here with a specific question, not a request for a general critique, but then it occurred to me that maybe my objection could actually contribute to the solution to your quandry.

    So... why does the epidemiologist have to be a damn American? I mean, I'm pretty sure Great Britain has epidemiologists, right? So why do we need the great American to come and rescue the poor ignorant Brits?

    That was the part I was going to stay quiet about, until I thought that maybe the British doctors would feel the same way I do. For some added punch, maybe you could add a recent mistake by your hero, or a rivalry with the leader of the British epidemiologists, or whatever it would take to make your guy have to be an outsider. The 'official' doctors are doing the lab work and whatever else, with your guy poking around the edges, trying to find clues on his own, investigating crazy possibilities that have been dismissed by the establishment. So he goes digging in a church...?
     
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  3. RobertD
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    RobertD Member

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    Thanks for the reply. It has nothing to do with the capabilities of the British doctors. The other main character (which I didn't mention) is a British doctor who works for the WHO. It is simply because the bacteria has not occurred in Britain for over a hundred years and there are no "experts" on this particular bacteria in Britain. The bacteria does occur in the US and this particular doctor is the expert. That is all. No offence to British doctors, who represent some of the best in the world.
     
  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is that based on something? Is there really a bacteria that occurs in the US often enough for a doctor to be an expert but that doesn't appear at all in Britain?

    But, anyway, the point was that you could address your plot issue by making your hero an outsider, somehow. Or you could introduce an outsider character, one who comes up with the church idea and drags your hero into it.
     
  5. RobertD
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    RobertD Member

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    Yes, that part is fact. This bacteria has not occurred in Britain since 1910, but is common in some parts of the US.

    He can't be an outsider because in my story the British government itself has authorised the recruitment of this doctor. In my story, the bones discovered initially and tested by the British doctors and found to contain the pathogen, are only part of the story. The American doctor also demands to test the soil and finds that this bacteria can live in soil indeifinitley.

    But, I would be interested to know why Brits get so offended by an American being at the centre of a solution in Britain. I am an American now making my home in Britain for the past 16 years. What is the problem?
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not British. I'm not particularly offended, just sick of the trope.
     
  7. RobertD
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    RobertD Member

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    I see. Well thank you for your replies. I will certainly consider your thoughts.

    Bob
     
  8. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I am quite well prepared to accept that some medical guy will do other medical things that I really don't understand. I don't think you have much to be worried about when Indiana Jones is running around being the worst archeologist the world has ever seen.

    not Bob
     
  9. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Presumably the cure is some sort of herbal treatment? In earlier ages, returning crusaders might have brought back knowledge from the medical knowledge of the high Islamic civilization, e.g. the use of analgesics derived from the poppy. However, 14th century is a little late for that route for information.

    The problems I'm seeing are:
    1/ Is the Bishop of London sufficiently knowledgeable about medicine to vouch for the cure's efficacy?
    2/ Why would the Bishop - who was from a wealthy family - entrust the cure to a colleague, and not to his family?
    3/ Given the Pope's antipathy to the King of England, why would the King's Bishop pay ANY attention to him?
    4/ Given the state of science at the time, how would the Bishop have sealed the portion to "endure the ages"? We've just been through our medicine cabinet, and most of the medicines were out of date - and they were a lot younger than 750 years!

    EDITED to add: Plus, don't forget the impact that the dissolution would have had on Church lands...plus that Saint Paul's cathedral burnt down in the great fire, and was rebuilt in 1675.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2015
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  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't understand - how on earth could the church be the solution to this bacteria? All he has to do is find out that once a cure existed in Britain - which should be easy enough to discover through the fact that the bacteria disappeared after the outbreak in the 14th century. If he simply tracked whether a cure had ever existed, he'd get from Italy to England and finish with the London Bishop. Now all he gotta find is some convenient clue that tells your MC the Bishop hid the last of the cure, find where it's hidden, and voila you're done. As the expert authority on this bacteria, your MC should already know a cure once existed.

    But I'm not sure I get it. How can your MC be an expert if the bacteria hasn't been seen in centuries? I know your reason behind this is that the MC is American and in America, the bacteria still exists. But in that case, why hasn't all of America died out already? What's this expert authority been doing all this time in his career prior to the novel?

    I don't think your problem is the church here. Your problem is: why on earth doesn't America have the cure already that they can't just send the drugs over to the UK and be done with it?
     
  11. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have a question - if the bacteria is common in the US, why isn't there an outbreak of the disease there? Instead, he may be an expert on the family of bacteria from which the infectious strain has originated.

    But to assist with your original question, the American doctor may have been looking into the circumstances of the burial site - where it is, how long ago it was used and who owned it. Some of this information may have been given to him.

    OR it could be that there's a stone artefact of a distinctive shape which was buried with the victims. He asks one of the local pathologists if they've seen the symbol on the artefact before, and they point him in the direction of a church or cathedral which bears this mark in its masonry.
     
  12. Ivana
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    Ivana Contributing Member

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    My suggestion: introduce a female character who is, let's say, a British investigator interested in medieval history. ;)
     
  13. RobertD
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    RobertD Member

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    I
    I have not revealed the entire plot in my brief synopsis. If the plot were as simple as you have described, I wouldn't have bothered writing the book. All of your points are covered throughly in the book. The church (not any clergy, ancient or present) has any thing to do with the cure. And I said the mc is an expert on this bacteria, but not one that has not been seen since the middle ages.
     
  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Fair enough, and I'm glad to hear that in any case. However, then it is definitely not clear to me how the bacteria is connected to the church. You asked how you could plausibly lead your MC onto investigating the church as opposed to test for pathogens in the soil all the glorious day long - however, how are we supposed to help you and make suggestions if we're not clear how the church and the bacteria stuff connect?? :superconfused:
     
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  15. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    OK, having done some digging, you're talking Black Death, plague or Yersinia Pestis.

    So, following intensive medical research that's been done to counter the most recent outbreaks, and the fact that a dozen people a year still catch it in the USA...why do we need a medieval "cure"? Given that the medieval explanations ranged from an astrologically-caused foul air to the wells being poisoned by the Jews. (This was disproved as an hypothesis when whole towns exterminated their Jewish population and failed to cure the plague!)
     
  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's almost the same question I asked :supershock:
     
  17. RobertD
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    RobertD Member

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    I am at work and will fully answer these tonight. Keep in mind that there are many who do not believe that a flea vector could not have been responsible for so many deaths so fast (Myself included). Also keep in mind that my story is meant to be "what if" fiction. I have taken some liberties.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2015
  18. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    I was thinking along the same lines. Black Death or Anthrax came to mind, While there were various explanations, there were also some very common sense solutions to avoiding the Black Death in particular. I believe Nostradamus advocated cleanliness to prevent the spread, unwittingly reducing the infestation of rats that spread the disease.

    The cure could be a mixture of herbs treated in a particular way. While any cure lasting 750 years is a stretch by any means, having a written record of the recipe and preparation recorded is a viable alternative. It would fit neatly into that time period where monasteries kept many records and documents. The transcript could be hidden in old burial records or something else.

    Apart from that I agree with Bayview about it having to be an American. It is becoming tedious to see everything having to include or revolve around America.
     
  19. RobertD
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    RobertD Member

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    Jeesh!! Never thought I would have to apologise for the nationality of my MC. How the church is connected to the plot is revealed in my story. For those that aren't happy with the science of my story, I would remind them that although the story is fiction, plague has more than one manifestation, some much more deadly than others and that is only the one we know about. Further, bacteria can mutate and there is more than one Yersinia bacteria. I have had the medical portion of my story reviewed by a doctor and a microbiologist. The combination of events that could create what I am writing about is highly unlikely but possible, however remotely. BUT THIS IS FICTION! It is a "what if scenario".
     
  20. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Back to the OP.

    I think that most of us can go with deadly bacteria re-surfaces, mutated to be deadlier than ever.

    The problem is how the church of 1350 can provide the cure.

    When you consider the state of medicine in those days, a cure being found is a long-shot.

    Getting it from Italy (through a Papally-hostile France) to England is another long-shot - after all, why would an Italian send it that way? It's not as if he'd have to get it out of Italy to save himself from the Inquisition, because the Pope was in Avignon.

    The Bishop of London verifying it is a long-shot. He's not scientifically-trained, so it's unlikely he'd know how.

    Saving the cure as a medicine is a long-shot, given how primitive methods of preserving foodstuffs were.

    Saving it as a recipe is an even longer shot, given how ambiguous medical treatises of the time were, so that there's an ongoing "science" of diagnosing deaths from that era based upon the descriptions, and many a disagreement. General consensus is that Harthacnut died of a stroke, but I'm convinced - based upon the description - that he died of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy. But what do I know.

    Saving anything from within the medieval church in England is a bit of a lottery, given the Reformation.

    Saving anything from the Bishop of London's library is even more of a gamble, given the cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
     
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  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't have to apologize. And as you aren't planning to get this published, you don't even have to worry about reader reaction.

    That said, you don't have to worry about reader reaction regarding your microbiologist in church issue, either. If you're willing to handwave away the realism of the bacteria, why not handwave the microbiologist in church, too? It's not usual for a microbiologist to engage in anthropology, but it's also not usual for a medieval cure to be more effective than modern science. So if you're willing to ignore probability for one, ignore it for the other, too! THIS IS FICTION, right?
     
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  22. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    As I think you're finding, one of the difficulties with trying to get people on forums to fill in plot holes is that you know far more of the plot than we do. We can make up all sorts of plots which might answer your question, but they're unlikely to fit into the plot you already have.

    Saying that, is there anyway that your characters might decide it's useful to determine whether this is a new mutation or an old strain that's resurfaced? I'm not entirely sure why that'd be useful to know, but it could be an excuse for them to look through old records other than looking in highly improbable places for a cure.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2015
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  23. RobertD
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    RobertD Member

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    I didn't say it was not going to be published, I said that I don't expect it to be published. I know how difficult it is to get a work published. I am not a professional writer and probably have insufficient talent for trade. But I will try, none the less. You make comments as though you already know I have insufficient talent for the trade. I admit that I provided too little information to adequately answer my question.

    I could be wrong, but you seem to be a very angry person to me. Why you would be angry at me, I do not know. Had I known that my main character being American would irk so many people, I would have said he was from the Farro Islands. I don't they have irked too many people.
     
  24. RobertD
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    RobertD Member

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    One of the few good ideas I have seen in this thread. The second main character is a British doctor working for the WHO who is a woman.
     
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  25. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is it just a coincidence that the idea that you approve of is one you've already had?

    As plothog said, it's pretty hard for us to come up with answers to your problem that will satisfy your demands when you know way more about your plot than we do.

    (PS - You seem like a pretty angry person. Very defensive. Possibly you are, or possibly it's a mistake to try to analyze someone's personality based on a handful of posts on the internet...)
     

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