Yesterday I had the following conversation on Twitter that really got me thinking about what makes a book "work":
|He did WHAT?!
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the age old 'plausibility' factor isn't dependent on your plotpoints. At all.
Bestselling Examples (10 points if you can name all the books without use of anything but your grey matter):
- Children killing each other for televised sport.
- "Demonbabies" bitten out of human mother's tummy by vampire father.
- An entire magical realm hidden accessed via a London train platform.
- Greek mythological Gods alive and well in modern-day America and hiding their children behind 'stinky' stepfathers.
The list goes on - fallen angels who fall in love with humans, reincarnated lovers, a world where everyone dies before they reach the ripe old age of 25...
See what I mean? I write fantasy, so believe me, I hit this a lot.
If you describe plot-points out of context you'll get everything from blank looks to revulsion. But that's because taken in isolation, most fiction is purely unbelievable.
The skill is in weaving a world so tangible, characters so relatable and (the element lacking in many maiden manuscripts, I think) the motivations so solid that the reader can't doubt them.
The technical term is 'suspension of disbelief' and it means that you've captured the imagination of the reader so completely, they stop asking questions.
The problem is, suspension of disbelief, that magical moment in which anything is possible, requires engagement of the logical brain. (Reader says, "Say what?").
Bear with me:
Element #1 - World Building. Set the rules, then stick to them. Readers are fine with a different kind of law, just as long as the author is an adherent. Problems only arise when you change the game - when the author springs something unestablished into the mix to save the day.
Element #2 - Relatable Characters. Your protagonist can be human, creature, past, present or future, or a conglomerate of everything. But whoever they are, they must experience real emotion. (And you should define 'real' as: What the reader believes someone would feel if they were in the Protag's shoes). The thing a reader resonates with isn't the world. It's the character whose eyes they're watching the story behind. If that character doesn't feel in realistic ways, no manner of world-building or plotting will save your story.
To hammer the point home: Feeling realistically doesn't mean author-telling-reader how to feel. It means letting them see the events unfold, see the body language of the other characters, and giving them enough information about the people to measure the emotional journey for themselves.
Element #3 - Established Motive. Let's take the currently abhorrent-to-some plotpoint of a certain book / movie in which the vampire father of a half-breed baby literally bites the child out of the (conscious!) mother's womb.
Taken at face value like that, it sounds horrific. But for readers of the series, who've bought into the world and fallen in love with the characters, the development is so logical as to barely warrent notice.
- We know the physical strengths and limitations of these characters (including the child).
- We know the world they're in, and the clear and present dangers.
- We know the apparently brutal physical interaction is actually a desperate attempt on the father's life to keep his wife and child alive.
- We know the mother has risked her own life to this point for the sake of the child, and wants the people around her to do anything to save it.
When we're deep in the world and the characters heads, it makes sense.
When you write it down, it looks awful.
So, take heart dear writerly friends - it's my belief there's no such thing as a 'no go zone' in plotting. But, you have to have the character development and motivational foundation to make the scary, gory, freakish or fantastical seem logical.
Your Turn: Have you ever read a book that didn't provide the motivational foundation to let you suspend disbelief?