Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

Far-fetched plot devices I love — hint: Sometimes they’re called ‘whirlybirds’

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One of my favorite television programs, and one which I believe has a history of excellent writing, is “ER.” You know the story line, I’m sure: It’s sort of a well-written, very well-acted hospital soap opera in prime time. That’s what my son calls it, usually with a great deal of disdain, and I think that’s not too far off the mark.

Anyway, I rattled on about “ER” because my very favorite plot device has been instrumental in landmark past episodes: helicopters falling from the sky, or sort of.

Not many years ago, one of the obnoxious doctors on the show (ER head doctor? I think) was a Dr. Romano. He was the sort of character you really wanted to hate, but actually grew on you and became semi-sympathetic as ER characters go. A turning point in his career and in the perception of him as a character was when his arm was mangled and had to be amputated as the result of running into a helicopter rotor blade while aiding patients at the hospital’s rooftop helipad. (Note: We live about three blocks away from a hospital helipad and the little devils come in pretty low over our house several times a week. Yikes.)

But the real high point of the Romano episodes for me came the next season when they killed the good doctor off. Anybody else remember how he died? Greatest laugh for a plot device in a drama, drumroll please: A helicopter crashed onto the street just outside the ER, terrible destruction, mayhem everywhere — and when all was settled, they discovered that the whirlybird had crashed, yes, RIGHT ON TOP OF DOCTOR ROMANO.

I haven’t written and published much fiction. But I vowed then to NEVER use helicopters falling from the sky to kill off my characters when I do write fiction.

Of course, it could happen, I suppose. Oh, well, I suppose it does happen. But not often.
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