Cancer: The Convenient Device

Hidden cave at a nearby waterfall

Hidden cave at a nearby waterfall

So, I discovered I had thyroid cancer earlier this year (which I blogged about HERE,  and HERE )

Now we’re back into the ‘wait’ part of hurry-up-and-wait, until we hear from the hospital for a surgery date, predicted to be within the next six weeks, to take out my thyroid. (followed soon thereafter by radiated iodine to kill off any of the little buggers that dodged the scalpel)

UPDATE: The hospital just rang as I was writing this post … My surgery is scheduled for 2nd July. Let the games begin.

Apart from writing, and household chores, and general living stuff, I’ve been distracting myself by rewatching/watching some favourite TV shows and have come to some interesting conclusions …

Ever since TV series were invented, we’ve been fed this line that heroines/heroes CAN’T die (what would happen to the ratings for one thing) because they have to be in next week’s episode. They’re called ‘anchor characters’ for a reason.

Each week the main character/s ‘MacGyver’ their way out of an impossible situation, or a force majeur saves the day at the last minute, or they contract a fatal illness/have an accident, and are saved by a brilliant doctor. The list isn’t exactly endless, but the result is the same.

Writers have to ramp up the tension, not by having the characters succumb to these challenges, but to think up ways for them to survive. And the longer the series lasts the more absurd these devices become. (I’m looking at you, CSI)

(Joss Whedon (Firefly and Buffy, etc) and George R.R. Martin (A Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones) shattered this model when they killed off main characters. Other creators have done this but these two are mainstreaming at the moment, so they’re ‘it’)

Absurd and repetitious. And this is where the cancer thing comes back into the picture.

In all of the shows I’m slowly working my way through, there have been at least two episodes per season where cancer has been used as a plot device, either by a main character getting some form of cancer, or a family member/friend dying or miraculously recovering from cancer. (this excludes Greys Anatomy because someone has cancer every third episode – just joking, sorta, kinda)

In my BC era (Before Cancer) I was vaguely aware of this, but now, where I see it everywhere around me, it’s right in my face. I’m reaching a point where I roll my eyes and drawl, “puhleeeeze” when the big ‘C’ wends its weary way across my computer screen. (this reaction might be a tad excessive, but hey, it’s my cancer party and I’ll overreact if I want to) (P.S. we haven’t had a TV for decades – everything comes through my computer

Which is very reminiscent of one of a writers greatest bug-a-boo’s, the repeated word. We all have ‘em. That word that stands out like a sore thumb when we’re editing. (I’m not going to tell you how many times I removed the word ’that’ from this post before publishing it, but it was in the double digits)

So, to pull all this together – if you write (for TV, novels, comics, cereal ads, etc) in a specific genre, pay attention to your favourite or default storytelling device and throw it out the window. See what else you can come up with. Not for always, but every now and then. The universe will not end – unless that’s what you’re planning … even then try something else and see what happens.

The same goes for life.


“Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping … waiting … and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir … open it’s jaws and howl. It speaks to us … guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love … the clarity of hatred … the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead” Joss Whedon


What, exactly, are they plotting?

24 comments on “Cancer: The Convenient Device

  1. Kathryn Orr says:

    Well said, from many angles. Take care.


  2. Erin says:

    Great post, Widder!

    I’ll have to think about what plot devices I reuse.


  3. jannatwrites says:

    I like the advice to try something different. When I write mysteries, I toss out my first idea on plot twists, assuming it would be too obvious 🙂

    I’m sorry about the waiting. If you don’t keep your mind occupied, that part can drive a person nuts! I hope it all goes well.

    Thanks for posting that cat video – they are adorable. I love it when they do their little meows (with our cats, it is usually when they are hungry and they are persuading me to put kibble in their dishes early…yeah, it usually works!)


    • Widdershins says:

      We are nothing if not responsive cat-staff-persons!

      Sometimes I have a great idea for a plot and I’m super excited. They I realise I just read/watched it within the last week or so. I tell myself I have good judgement 😀 and move on!


  4. “The same goes for life.” That goes into my best line pile, widder.

    I watched “Revolution” this season. Gah! It’s amazing how the main characters get saved at the last second two or three times during the hour. Sometimes by the “enemy” who after saving a hero beats him or her up. I will not be surprised when this show returns next season that one of the woman heroes who supposedly died is alive. I hope so because she’s the one female hero that I respect.

    You go, widder!


  5. catdownunder says:

    Hang in there – and let me know if you need Vegemite, Fruchocs or something else from Downunder unobtainable in Eastern Upover


  6. All the best for 2 July!


  7. londonmabel says:

    -Feed us.
    – Feed us.
    – Feed us.
    – Aw shit, she’s not gonna feed us.
    – Alright. …Cuddle?
    – Cuddle.


  8. Nisha says:

    Good luck for your op on the 2nd, Widders, my thoughts are with you… 🙂


  9. Hope everything goes well on the 2nd, Widders. *hugs*


  10. My prayers are very much with you. This is a topic vey near to me, although I haven’t taken the step to discuss it publicly. Hang in there, and we’ll laser out the rest of those little critters on the other end. Just get ready to stick out your tongue at them and say “bye bye”


  11. Jeff Hargett says:

    Hoping everything turns out well for you. The C-word has been far too prevalent in my family.

    You raised some very valid points about the “immortality” of main characters. I admire Martin for his approach to the GoT series. Tension in its truest sense for a reader of fiction is knowing that any obstacle or peril can be fatal to every single character. He may well have set the tone for entertainment’s future.


    • Widdershins says:

      Thanks Jeff. 😀

      I started to answer the rest of what you wrote and realised I was running on a bit, so I’m going to put it up as a separate post.


  12. […] from Strands of Pattern, made a comment on my post, Cancer: The Convenient Device, and I thought it would make a great follow-up post, so here goes […]


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