Most of the fiction I read is actually beyond belief, and to be honest, so is most of what I write. The thing is, readers have to be drawn in and within the story believe the unbelievable. Even if as you’re reading, part of your mind is telling you that these events couldn’t really happen, these people wouldn’t really behave like this, these coincidences and flukes are just beyond belief, if the writer is good enough, you’re carried along, gripped and enjoying the story. Even if some of it does just go beyond what you can believe, if it’s sufficiently engaging, you can put that aside and just enjoy the read, galloping towards the conclusion. If, however, there is too much which is genuinely impossible, even inside the imaginary world the writer has created, then the reader flags, maybe gives up, maybe plods on, increasingly irritated, maybe vows not to read anything by that author again.
If I look at my stories, most of them are utterly preposterous, although at the same time most of them have some elements which are feasible. This was proved to me when I went on a training course while I was still at work. About thirty of us sat in a circle and we were told to pair up with whoever was next to us. We had to introduce ourselves but we had to tell the other person a lie about ourselves, something completely untrue. heck! I had a thlnk and then an idea came; I would tell the nice person next to me something which happened to one of the characters in one of my books.
The person I chose was Deke, from ‘Farholm’. I told the lady that I was sorry if I seemed a little sad and disconnected from what was going on, but I had just discovered that my beloved husband, who had recently died, was in fact already married to someone else when he married me! I wittered on about this, and then the lady told me some imagined story about herself. We continued with the exercise and then we moved on to something else, and then we had coffee, and then another exercise took place. At lunch time, the lady who had continued to be my partner and with whom I’d really ‘clicked’ sat beside me and we chatted on about where we worked and what er did and just general stuff. Then she hit me with an absolute bombshell and i felt utterly embarrassed, awkward and in a strange way guilty. You see, this lady’s life was similar to Deke’s – she had been happily married, had kids (unlike Deke) had a wonderful husband, who travelled abroad to South America, who was an amazing father to their children, her soul mate, her other half – and who was married to someone else and had another family!
So yes, unbelievable things can be believable but sometimes a writer just let’s their imagination go beyond what can really be entertained and loses their otherwise faithful reader. I wrote a coupe of days ago about a series of books which started with what I considered quite a few faults in the writing, but gradually got to grips and ended by by the fifth in the series being really gripping and entertaining, and all in all a good read. I moved on to number six… and oh dear… I could believe it for so far – even though, as I’ve already mentioned fiction can be ridiculous and carry you along to a point, but it got to that point and I thought no, no, no. In no way could that ever happen, in no way would these people who I’ve ‘known’ through five previous stories behave in this utterly ridiculous way, put themselves at risk, and the ‘baddy’ be able to do all he is able to do.
Spoiler alert: if you read J.D. Kirk’s Jack Logan series, when you get to number 6, ‘A Whisper of Sorrows’, I defy you to not stop reading and think to yourself, how on earth could this possibly happen? How on earth could this escaped prisoner be able to organise all of this, manage all of this, do all of this? How the heck could all these amazing police officers get themselves into such a ridiculous pickle, how could they not see the blindingly obvious, how could the bloke who betrays them all have been able to do this and why, and above all, why am i reading this, and can I possibly continue to the end? I did read it to the end but I admit I felt very cross, because despite the bloody brutality, it was just a bit silly.
Un-alert: will I read another in the series? I will let you know.
As a writer what have I learned? I guess it is to make sure that as far as possible I become objective about every aspect of what I’ve written, character, plot, feasibility, believability (within its own fiction) credibility, continuity, and a lot of other ‘ilities/ities’ that I can’t just at the moment think of.
So what am i reading tonight? ‘The King in the North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria’ – by Max Adams.
If you want to read ‘Farholm’ and I haven’t given too many spoilers, here’s a link: