Intended for healthcare professionals


Medical fiction

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 10 April 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:955

Should be accurate, but need not be didactic

  1. John Collee, Novelist and scriptwriter (
  1. 86 Short Street, Balmain, Sydney, NSW 2041, Australia

    Papers pp 972, 978

    The best works of fiction operate on several levels at once. They contain simple characters and messages which a child can understand, but they also contain deeper meanings, which may only become obvious after frequent retelling. Thus the great tales of antiquity—the Mahabharata, theOdyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh—can operate both as soap operas and as profound meditations on the great imponderables of life.

    It is no accident that these stories are often obscure or ambiguous; indeed, this feature partly accounts for their success. If things are too obvious there is no drama in them. If there's no drama, the story doesn't engage us emotionally, and without emotional engagement the story is unmemorable. Much health advertising fails for this reason: its very clarity makes it uninteresting and forgettable. By contrast, tobacco …

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