Reality vs Fiction:
In reviews, I often find myself saying something along the lines of “the author didn’t convince me” or “it wasn’t believable.” To which I get all kinds of responses from “Exactly” to “but it is fiction!”
Fiction does not have to be based in reality. Even if it is a contemporary or historical story, things can happen in a story that don’t happen in the real world. I have no issue with that.
As I read, I have found two primary schools of thought when it comes to fiction versus reality. There are those authors for whom everything must be historically, politically, scientifically, procedurally, etc accurate. If it doesn’t happen a certain way in the “real world” it doesn’t happen in their books. The second, of course, are those authors for whom research is a four-letter word. Nothing that happens in the “real” world has any bearing on how they tell their story. It is their story, after all. Most authors, and therefore stories, fall someone where in between.
It is in this in-between where we find the best stories.
Authors have a little thing in their arsenal called artistic license. Artistic license is like a get out of jail free card they can wield to make reality fit their plot or characters. But it has to be wielded with care.
Artistic license is a colloquial term, sometimes euphemism, used to denote the distortion of fact, alteration of the conventions of grammar or language, or rewording of pre-existing text made by an artist in the name of art.
See here is the rub. If you are too staunch in your support of the “real” world, you risk your story turning mundane. Without the ability to mold reality to your whim, your fiction becomes uninteresting. If you are too liberal in your application of AL, you risk your fiction becoming little more than fluff.
If a reader comes away saying that something in your story was implausible, unbelievable, or just plain silly, it isn’t because they didn’t “get it.” It isn’t because “it is fiction, it doesn’t have to be believable.” It is because you as the author, as the master of your world, failed. Yes, your words are pretty. Yes, your characters are lovable. Yes, your plot flows nicely. But, in the end, you failed.
The job of an author is to take the reader out of their world and into the world the author created. Let’s say that another way. It is the job of the author to make the reader “suspend” their reality in favor of the one you create. Your reader has to believe the world you created could exist. Whether you are writing fantasy or contemporary, it is the onus of the author to make the reader understand that this reality, the one on the page, is the right one. At least for the 60,000 to 120,000 words it takes to tell the story.
How do you make a reader suspend their disbelief? That is the key, now isn’t it. If I had the magic answer to that one, I would be a very rich woman.
For me, it is when I, as a reader, am so engrossed in a story that I can’t put it down. Some keywords I use in reviews would be “sucked in” and “grabbed me a wouldn’t let go” or “I was too wrapped up in the story to notice.”
Paint me a picture. Show me how those shifters live for hundreds of years and how that affects their development and society. Show me that two FBI agents going undercover and having sex with suspects makes sense. Show me that two boys in love would legitimately be able to stand on the lawn of their school for 36 hours with their lips locked together.
You can’t just throw out facts and figures or put your characters in fantastic situations and expect the reader to just accept it as “reality” because it is in print (or eInk as the case may be). When you were in school, you had to have references for your facts. In fiction, you get to create the facts, but you also have to provide the reference.
I am not going to call out specific titles this week. There are authors that do this well, authors that don’t, and everywhere in between. If you are the author of an in-between story, remember that pulling the reader out of the story just one time with an implausible situation may be enough to lose rating points, or even cause a DNF. It could be enough so that your reader may not even bother to pick up your next story.
Next time you see a review that says “I just couldn’t see this happening” or “it wasn’t believable” stop and think. What could YOU, as the author, do to send the reader on the journey you are trying to express. Did you build enough world to make the reader suspend disbelief and accept the product of your artistic license as fact?
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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