An Expert Disagreement

By Donnell Ann Bell

In December 2022, on The Stiletto Gang, I blogged about the importance of accurate research when creating our fictional stories. I also pointed out that the Internet is a great place to obtain plot information, but to rely exclusively on search engines is risky. I also mentioned in this blog that to double check my research, I consult experts.

Book three of my cold case series is a spinoff of book one, Black Pearl a Cold Case Suspense. In book one I read nonfiction books and consulted numerous psychological experts. The same is necessary for book three. In addition to reading everything I can about mental health and hospitals, I’m consulting with psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists.

SPOILER ALERT: In book one, my antagonist suffers from a particular disorder. Too late in the story, I learned the mental ailment is not an acceptable legal defense and, in most cases, doesn’t hold up in court. This caused a problem as I planned to use this character again in book three.

What to do? During the antagonist’s competency hearing, I wrote a scene whereby the judge, lawyers, doctors, and spectators witness an episode firsthand. No doubt about it, the antagonist belongs in prison. However, with doctors for both the prosecution and the defense present, the judge follows their recommendations and commits the antagonist to a mental hospital until he is deemed competent to stand trial.

After that plot fix, I thought I was ready to get to work on book three.  However, another problem arose. One of the experts I consulted claimed not to believe in the disorder, while the other experts I consulted emphatically do.

Recognizing that the courts don’t accept the disorder and a psychiatrist doesn’t as well presented a major conundrum for me. I couldn’t just gloss over her viewpoint. I may write fiction, but it has to be honest; moreover fiction has to make sense.

Like any profession, there seems to be a disconnect among these learned professionals. One therapist I talked to said that psychiatrists treat the patient with the prescription pad while psychotherapists try to get to the root of the patients’ dysfunction. I’m sure psychiatrists would argue the point. In fact, one book I read explained the years of analysis a psychiatrist went into in helping his DID patient.

Knowing this feeling exists, however, allowed my muse to take over. I realized a way I could present both opinions and still hopefully make my story work!

I went to work writing a psychotherapist’s backstory. He’s newly retired and recently widowed. For years, he was in practice with his psychiatrist wife who adamantly rejected the idea of the mental illness, so much so she published articles in medical and psychiatric journals in support of her argument.

The widower, who still consults on occasion, is called to meet my antagonist. He is fascinated and later becomes convinced that my antagonist is a valid case. Retirement allows the character to devote longer therapy hours and his goal becomes not only to help but to publish papers on his findings later.

Incorporating these differing opinions helped me cement my plot. It’s now outlined and in draft form. Now the hurdle becomes–can I bring this story to life? Fellow authors, is my story at all familiar to you? Do you encounter roadblocks when writing. My roadblock was huge. How about you? Ever had one and do you work to go around them?

About the Author: Donnell Ann Bell is an award-winning author, her latest work, a series, includes Until Dead: a Cold Case Suspense, released in 2022, Black Pearl, a Cold Case Suspense  2020 Colorado Book Award finalist. Donnell’s single title books include, Buried Agendas, Betrayed, Deadly Recall and the Past Came Hunting, all of which have been Amazon bestsellers. Currently she’s writing book three of her cold case series.









4 replies
  1. Gay Yellen
    Gay Yellen says:

    I admire your commitment to research, Donnell. Don’t you just hate it when it messes with your story? Sometimes I envy fantasy writers who can make everything up!

    • Donnell Ann Bell
      Donnell Ann Bell says:

      Oh, yes, Gay, but we shouldn’t envy them to much. They have to come up with world building — and make it different from other fantasy authors — and make it memorable. That would be fun to do an improv 🙂

  2. Lois Winston
    Lois Winston says:

    Donnell, there are differing expert opinions in all areas of medicine. I think you’re safe. Besides, not only are you writing fiction, you have the luxury of being able to write an Author’s Note at the end of you book for further explanation of the differing opinions.

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