There are so many poisonous things in the world around us, and you may know quite a bit about them simply because you read/watch the news or have a passing acquaintance with movies, TV, and books. But maybe you want to delve a little deeper into an interesting way to deal with one of your story’s characters and inject a little mystery and mayhem into your story. Maybe they don’t even have to die. Maybe you just want them to be out of the way for a little bit, to get a little sick, to have a problem that can be figured out … later.
Poison might be the perfect answer to your story problem.
And to know what poison can do for you, as a writer, you probably should do a little research to know which poison will be perfect for your needs. And there are so many to choose from. Many people have heard of the obvious poisons like arsenic and cyanide and mercury. They all have a history, and varying and different symptoms and results. But there are so many more out there, so you don’t have to stick with just those few.
Interested in learning more?
There are lots of things you don’t know about poisons. For example, did you know even some of the most innocuous things can be poisonous if you ingest too much? One website that discusses poisoning a fictional character brings up the real-life case of Jennifer Strange, a 28-year-old woman from the state of California who died of water “poisoning” or water intoxication, caused by ingesting too much water too quickly. She was taking part in a water-drinking contest held by a radio station trying to win a Wii (the contest was captioned “Hold Your Wee for a Wii,” although I’d probably have called it “Hold Your Water for a Wii” had it been my contest J). The only symptom noted by people who saw her after the contest and before she went home and was later found dead was the complaint of a headache. Not something that would necessarily lead you to think poison or poisoning, is it?
Then, there are more obvious things, ordinary household items you should know are poisonous, like bleach and antifreeze. Remember the scene from The Sixth Sense, where the little girl is filming and we see her mother adding some mysterious liquid into her ‘funny-tasting’ soup before she dies? Probably a little too much of one of those types of easily obtained household poisons you shouldn’t add to, say, soup. If you check under your kitchen sink or in the garage, you can probably find several bottles of those types of things (rat poison, anyone?) that can cause great harm. Those things would most likely be intentional poisoning cases, unlike the water incident, which means the person who introduced them into the victim’s food/drink/system will probably get caught because such ingestion couldn’t be explained away as accidental.
Beyond that, there are ‘medicinal’ and chemical poisons that a lot of people don’t easily have access to or don’t know where to get, like the aforementioned mercury, and arsenic, once routinely used in cosmetics. Mercury, for example, isn’t something you can run down to the store and get, usually, so using something like that takes more careful planning and forethought and may be harder to get and more costly. On the other hand, if someone suspects a person of being poisoned, mercury probably isn’t the first thing they’ll test for – it will most likely be something like rat poison or bleach.
So how do you know which poison will be right for your story?
Well, you’ll have to think about a few things before you decide. You’ll need to ask yourself questions like, do I want the character to die or just get sick? Do I know what symptoms I want them to display and how hard do I want it to be for the mystery of the poison to be solved by another character? If my character is going to survive the poisoning, what will the effects on their body be, and will they be long-term, short-term? Will they be able to fully recover? How much research will my poisoner need to do to choose and administer the poison?
Fictional sleuths such as Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes have dealt with poisoning cases in some of their stories, and some of our most popular stories have plots that include poison of some sort, like Romeo and Juliet, The Princess Bride (who can forget Vizzini – inconceivable!) and A Song of Ice and Fire. So writing about poisons and poisoning in your novel isn’t a – pardon the pun – novel idea. However, your take on poisons and poisoning can be your very own unique twist on your story and drag your readers, kicking and screaming, into the intrigue that poisoning implies.
Therefore, it’s important to know what you should and shouldn’t use and what to expect from your choices as it relates to your story. Readers want authenticity along with a great story. Therefore, they expect you to present a well-educated view of how it works in the story you’re telling and they’ll be disappointed if you don’t. And you don’t want to disappoint your readers. To that end, there is a lot of information available on the Internet, in books, and in writing workshops, so you’ll find lots of ways to learn. Just make sure you do your research and you’ll find poison can absolutely be the perfect plot point.
Join Jimmy for more about poisons!