A Likely Story

>> Saturday, October 2, 2010

After giving you all "permission" to write stories, plot, scenarios and characters that seem implausible, unlikely, even fantastic, what more is there to say? I've given you carte blanche, no?


I truly feel that the sky's no limit when it comes to characters, plots, settings, and stories, but - and it's a big but - you have to sell it as believable and live with the consequences. That's really two completely separate things and may mean this is in two segments. And I should probably explain it more.

Selling the implausible. We all know I hate marketing, but I love story-telling and this is part of it. And there are multiple ways to take a fantastic idea and make it work.

Everyone buys it. One method to impart plausibility is to make it a natural part of the world you build. If everyone takes shapeshifters or faith healers as part of the normal populace, it's easier for your audience to do so as well. An excellent example of this is Edwards Scissorhands which involved a highly implausible scenario and building characters and stories upon it. It worked because everyone in the movie took the scenario at face value and they ran with it. This is a pretty common method in fantasy and science fiction.

Build a plausible explanation. Something can seem impossible but turn plausible if the steps leading to it make sense: societies that work differently than ours, different biologies, different technologies, a character so capable you can believe he/she can do anything. Want an eleven year old starship captain? You'd better make him a prodigy, brilliant and mature beyond his years (and an explanation for that is useful too - did he raise himself and/or others? Trained as a pilot since birth? Have exceptional parents? Do people mature early or are children considered adult earlier? Do years last longer?)

It has to make sense. Not in our reality, but in the one you make. If, to get there, protagonists have to do stupid or nonsensical things, or rules are made and then unmade or the events behind it are so contrived and convoluted as to be ridiculous, you haven't built it right. I'm not saying each action has to make sense, but each thread, as part of the whole tapestry must (or it probably doesn't belong).

Make the story/characters so compelling that people forgive the details. This has been done by newbies and experts alike. It's frequently used to make hackneyed storylines (like romances) palatable despite being done a jillion times (and still loved by many). The problem with this method is that (a) for everyone who does this successfully, there dozens who don't pull it off and (b) you will always alienate a certain group of readers automatically by doing this. The Twilight series is a good example of this. For those caught up in the characters (as I was), the details are forgiven even though a (sizable) number of them make no sense. For purists, even saying "sparkly vampire" is enough to have them beat you up. Twilight et. al. made gobs of money, but there is a huge faction of haters who have never even read it. And, as I said, there are dozens of books that tried similar things that fell flat. Making compelling stories/characters with a story riddled with errors or poorly thought out details is HARD and falls flat more often than it succeeds. It's not a path I recommend.

As for part two, living with the consequences, I'll save that for the next post.


  • The Mother

    I think the most important one is, it has to make sense.

    That's what people have so much trouble with on my history posts. They just can't wrap their heads around the idea that this stuff actually did happen--and that's history! Imagine trying to sell that stuff as fiction!

  • Shakespeare

    It's the whole concept of suspension of disbelief. The more characters do stuff that doesn't suit who they are, the more the author makes the prose wacky or unrealistic within its parameters, the harder it will be for readers to suspend disbelief. Jarring language and behaviors will cause us to step back from the page, losing our link to the fictional world.

    I just endured this with a Cinderella-based novel. Great concept, but its delivery and inconsistencies kept me popping out of the action and meaning... not a fun read at all.

  • Jeff King

    I love it... it's like I'm back in school with a teacher who can actully teach, or say it in a way I understand it.

    keep'em coming.

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