I've noticed a poison that creeps into fiction. No matter how realistic or gritty the story, writers continually let it slip in. This week I noticed it watching an episode of Breaking Bad, season 4--one of the rare television shows worth watching if you can stomach it (though I've noticed I don't like it as much as some other writers.)
The poison is poison itself. Despite a wealth of information available in our world, I keep noticing the same trope--a toxin that reacts within seconds; is colorless, tasteless, and odorless; and has no side effects other than the victim falling unconscious or dead without more than a grimace or gasp. The details vary, but real toxins don't work like that.
In the Breaking Bad episode, several members of the cartel ingest poisoned drink all at once. Salud! Then, a few minutes later, it kills all of them at (almost) the same moment. They fall to the ground dead with barely a sound. The only exception to this was Gus, who purposely made himself vomit while everyone else was falling dead. Smart guy; he got away with just some stomach pain.
Breaking Bad generally portrays toxins realistically, such as its use of ricin, which is described incorrectly but is still better than fantasy poison. I was surprised to see such a ridiculous toxin on the show. There are toxins that act rapidly, but they have specific effects--not just an instant slumping to the ground--and no ingested toxin would affect all of its victims at exactly the same moment. Metabolism and stomach content would cause the results to vary quite a bit.
This is why writers are amazing. A writer that researches will know about a wider variety of topics than most other folks--especially when it comes to interesting ways of killing and disposing of bodies (just an observation.)
The lesson here is do research. I don't mean just a quick Google search. Talk to experts, read actual books, and dig deeper into how things work. This, to me, is what writers mean when they talk about honesty and truth in fiction. It's really just another way of saying fiction should be believable, realistic.
Writer of speculative fiction. Current work in progress is an untitled dark fantasy novella.