I managed to enter med school without attending a funeral or viewing a single dead person. So at age twenty, as I boarded the elevator which would take me to my first practical session in Human Anatomy, and with it my first encounter with a cadaver, I roiled with emotion.
Though we didn’t speak of it, I could tell my classmates were in a similar state. (Even then, the “code” was to maintain emotional control in front of one another.)
I recall the jostling, the nervous laughter when the elevator doors parted and we were struck by the scent of formaldehyde. (An oddly sweet aroma which lodges at the back of your throat.)
Then we poured into the lab with its harsh fluorescent lights, the blue cards bearing each cadaver’s name, age, and cause of death; the sounds which seemed sharp and outrageously loud in the cold room.
I had many questions as I approached the plastic-draped body.
Would I vomit? Would I learn enough to be worthy of the gift our donor had bestowed upon us? Or would I lose respect for the whole person when focusing on the nitty-gritty of the parts?*
For all the uncertainty of that morning, I never doubted its necessity. I had to acquire certain motor skills. Who better to be my teacher than the willing and generous dead?
Given that understanding, and given that I’d read multiple craft books urging novel dissection as a means to understand the mechanics of fiction, I’m not sure why I resisted as long as I did. However, last winter, after wrestling with the same plotting issue in my novel for months, I became desperate.
I dug out resources, analyzed three favorite books in the genre I write, and found it such a worthwhile investment, I’ll do it again.