Those of you who have been following me for a while know that I strive for realism. You might wonder why; after all, much of fiction is fantasy (and I’m not talking about the genre).
It’s because I subscribe to the belief that one must be able to suspend her disbelief while reading to really enjoy a book or movie. Maybe you’re not like that. Maybe it’s easy enough for you to read and go with the flow, no matter what’s thrown your way.
Don’t ask me why. I’m not sure why. But even science fiction, when done right, can feel believable. Horror is the same. But if I read something and find myself doubting, doubting, doubting…well, eventually, I will put the book down. Maybe not at that particular sentence. Maybe not at that particular paragraph or chapter. I’ll even forgive one or two “transgressions” along the way. After a while, though, you’re going to lose me.
There’s a famous series that did that to me (even if you haven’t read it, I promise you’ve heard of it!). I read the first book—hell, consumed is closer to the truth. I devoured the damn thing and the next day drove to the bookstore and bought the rest of the entire series (don’t look at me like that! I still like paperbacks on occasion). Book two, book three, book four. There were some pretty weird things going on but I was along for the ride. A lot of unbelievable elements (some serious throwing on of paranormal stuff—an overload), but still…I was hanging on and suspending my disbelief because the storyline and the characters were so damned captivating.
Until book five. Somewhere in the first half of the book, the author did what Stephen King’s character Annie Wilkes (in one of my favorite books of all time, Misery) accuses fictional author Paul Sheldon of doing: “cheating.” Yes, you can stretch and probe and skew my believability index within the context and confines of the book universe you’ve created. But when you PRETEND in book five that something was different in book one when it wasn’t—I know, because I just read the book three days ago—then you have lost me. For good. A character all of a sudden changed his entire motivation to serve the author’s new plot. Sorry, but that’s unforgiveable in my book. Pardon the pun. 😉
At the point when I was reading the series (there were already eight books written with five to go), I questioned how readers had kept going. Maybe they loved everything else about the universe so much that they could forgive the character’s change. To me, though, that’s a cardinal sin. That’s unrealistic. If a person in real life changes his or her motivation, we usually see what leads up to it. It’s certainly not amnesia, which seemed to be the case for this character. I closed the book and never picked it up again. Sad, because I loved the writer’s style.
But that brings me back to realism. Are some things in books a little farfetched? Yep, you bet, and I’m sure my books are no different. But there’s a difference between farfetched—stretching your believability quotient—and flat-out unbelievable.
I want to read books that are easy for me to believe (even if it is paranormal or horror or whatever), so I try to write the same way. I like to follow King’s advice to write what I know, because that makes my task easier. When I can’t, I research. I did a little research when I wrote Bullet and On the Road, for example, whereas I did a lot of primary research for Savage. I’d rather invest the time up front and write something readers enjoy and can sink their teeth into. I don’t want them tossing the book to the side out of frustration because I had to change something to suit a new storyline.
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