Thursday, October 11, 2007

Part Six: Mr. Random Messenger Meets Suspend-able Disbelief

One of the things planners often have less trouble dealing with is Mr. Random Messenger. Inexperienced (and sometimes experienced) “Seat of the Pants” writers occasionally feel like they’ve written themselves into a corner. The only perceivable way out is to introduce a twist to the story that solves the immediate problem. Sometimes, it’s the twist that ends up causing more trouble then the original dilemma.

Fiction depends upon your readers’ ability to absorb the world and the characters they are reading about. The most enjoyable fiction allows readers to step away from reality and feel like they can exist in this alternate world. They MUST believe that these characters could truly exist there. This requires an intimate balance called the willing suspension of disbelief.

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.” Mark Twain
The suspension of disbelief is about creating extraordinary or fanciful elements in such a way that, despite being ‘out of this world’ or even ‘against the laws of Earth physics’, SEEM real in the reality you’ve created.

Who loved Doc’s Time Machine, the Delorean in Back to the Future? It was unbelievable. If your next door neighbor drove that pile of scrap into your driveway and said he was about to go into the future with it you’d probably laugh till you cry and tell him to stay away from the rum. It’s just NOT believable, in this reality. But, in Back to the Future we believed it. The story introduced this absurd idea and we WANTED to believe. Despite how absolutely crazy it was, viewers around the world suspended their disbelief because it made an incredible story.

When it comes to our novels it is important to ensure every element aids this feeling. However, Mr. Random Messenger can sometimes completely obliterate the suspension of disbelief. The truth is, as insane as the idea of a flying time machine car may be it was feasible in this alternate reality. If however, a freight jet fell out of the sky full of plutonian the minute Marty crashed into the barn after going through time it would have destroyed our ability to put our faith into that story. (Not to mention forcing an early close to the whole developing plot.)

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” Tom Clancy
If you find yourself glaring at a dead end and need to throw a twist into your story it HAS to fit with what you have, it has to be realistic, it has to be explainable. Fiction, unlike real life, has to make sense. You can have fantastical things but in that fantastical world they have to be reasonable. Readers are fickle; they read for pleasure and expect certain things from the books they read. Readers are not stupid however, the moment they feel duped or let down they may put your book aside in favor of something more believable, something more involving, and something they can disappear into to leave their mundane lies behind.

“It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” Mark Twain
Never give your characters and easy out. If it’s too easy, it’s not believable.
Never have a random event that doesn’t tie into the overall plot. If it isn’t related to the rest of your story it isn’t believable.
Never give your main characters a problem they can’t solve themselves. Your stars should do all the work. If a third grade Girl Scout, delivering cookies, gets them out of a situation it’s just not believable.

Having said all of this there are some genres that are built on Mr. Random Messenger. Comedy for example is rife with extreme odds and unexplainable happenings. Mystery on the other hand is all about the tightly woven threads of plot. Thrillers are best when we’re terrified of the axe murderer because he ‘feels’ real. Fantasy gives you a lot of leeway when it comes to imagination but ultimately readers want to exist in the alternate world we create for them.

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Watch out for Mr. Random Messenger. He can be a wonderful tool to get you out of a tight situation but he should be carefully monitored. Often he needs to be woven into the rest of the story. You may not need to worry about it so much in the first draft but he is something you should keep a sharp eye for in a second.

Take your readers on a journey. Give them a reality that is more real than real life. Truth is truer. Life is livelier. Everything makes sense and happens for a reason. That’s how fiction works.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Elrena said...

These articles are great! And I tagged you with a writing meme -- here's the link if you want to play: http://elrenaevans.blogspot.com/2007/10/writing-meme.html

9:10 PM  
Blogger Michele L. Tune said...

This series has been awesome, Rebecca!

In a way, I'm sad to see Part Six posted this morning (which is wonderful!), but I also know that you'll have something exceptionally well-written and informative awaiting us in your next post.

Keep up the great work!

Smiles,
Michele

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anne said...

When Mr. Random messenger gets you in a corner, sometimes the way out is to go back to the middle to see if there are any seeds planted there you can use.

Remind me of this when I get stuck.

How's your progress?

10:07 PM  
Blogger VirtualWordsmith said...

I have a hell of a time suspending reality. I can't watch too many movies because of it. If things in a novel don't add up, I close the book.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Emily Veinglory said...

“It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” Mark Twain

--very true. It is like painting and photography. You can actually get away with more in a photo because people "know" it is true.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

Elrena: Thanks for the tag. I posted the result today. :-)
What Are Your Top Writer Strengths?

Michele: Thanks so much for following along through the series with me Michele. I've really looked forward to and enjoyed your comments. I'm actually rather disappointed to reach the end myself, it means I have to figure out how to regale you all next. Any suggestions? Are there any topics you'd like to know more about?

Anne: That's very true Anne, tracing your steps is one way to see if you have tricks up your sleeve you might not have thought about yet. You're getting very close to the 15th now. I'm excited for you. :-) I'm back to my 500 a day. The book moves in dips and starts but at least it's going somewhere, thanks to your support!

Mary: It's amazing to learn how vital this element is for all creative works and disappointing to know how many seem to miss the point. I can't stand what I call 'pathetic comedy' because of this lack of believability. It's just TOO pathetically blah. With other genres I'm a little more forgiving but I agree, the ability to willingly suspend disbelief is a part of what makes movies and books enjoyable.

Emily: It's amazing how photography is like that. I love seeing some of the amazing graphic effects we get these days. CGI is fantastic because it has developed to the point where things LOOK so real that they can blend into reality even if they're completely computer generated. I just wish big commerce didn't abuse this with airbrushed models creating a warped sense of reality.

5:05 PM  

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