Monday, November 23, 2009

Dental Records in Character Development

Since many of us would rather be dropped out of a plane without a parachute rather than go to a dentist, it is amazing that good authors make such good use of dentistry particularly in spy movies and mysteries.

If you have any questions about the importance of dentistry in a book, read Faye Kellerman’s Sacred and Profane a mystery based on forensic dentistry. It is a fascinating look at what teeth can tell about a long deceased person. Good writers often include some reference to teeth or dentistry at some point in their stories. “A pretty girl with bad teeth…” Empire of the Sun shows the disintegration of the main character’s teeth in a Japanese Concentration Camp. It’s subtle but interesting. Transformers 2 has a lovely little comedic bit about teeth. Or, if you really want the chills, check out Marathon Man. That is if you can stand seeing your worst nightmares of a dental office made manifest in torture.

There are all kinds of ways to include dentistry in a story. What is the character’s attitude toward his or her teeth? (i.e. believes he has soft teeth, believes he has ugly teeth or weak teeth). How is that played out? Is there a specific problem involving teeth that defines this character for the reader? What is the background of dentistry for this character (had good care, spent a lot of money on his teeth, never had a cavity filled). Include how he has been treated in dental offices, early traumas in dental offices, etc. How do others see the character’s teeth, if teeth are an issue? How would dental history or teeth in general advance the plot (i.e. Russian stainless steel teeth in a spy story)? Teeth are very much like overweight. People who are aware of their bad teeth don’t smile, or cover their smile with their hands.

Create a full history of fillings, braces, abscesses, root canal, how diseases like syphilis affect teeth, work that has needed to be done but which wasn’t done because of money.

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