Writing has some unique challenges for the aspiring scribe. Not getting sued first comes to mind, but there are others. Somehow, we must spin a yarn in such a way that you, the reader, buy into our story. It must have verisimilitude, or at least the sense of truth-telling. Convincing narrative plays a huge part, but other elements must be in the mix.
I recall a critique session in which two “alternate fiction” (fantasy) authors were discussing a scene in which a 500-year-old warlock steps into a trap that immediately thrusts him into a large net from which he hangs suspended from the ceiling. Maybe because the authors were both men, the discussion soon turned to the mechanical. Just what triggers the net? How does the warlock not see the trap? How was it hidden?
As a reader, I didn’t care how in blazes the thing worked. Somehow, the author had done such a good job creating his warlock, and put him in such a mess, I happily suspended my disbelief about how the net functioned for the pleasure of the story.
My comment to the two writers was, “If I already bought into a 500-year-old warlock, why would I struggle with the net?” The author had created verisimilitude, a sense that what he was writing was true, or at least, plausible. Without that suspension of belief, that agreement to accept the author’s world as true, how could one enjoy fiction? I mean, you know it’s not real…
Or is it?
I don’t write fantasy or sci-fi fiction in which I create my world and laws of physics. Yes, there are certain world-building rules in those genres, but I have no idea what they are. I just know that in my fiction, facts live with non-facts.
For example, Beauregard Abbington and Floyd Armbruster (in The Divine Meddler) are college students, and not the most outstanding ones at that. I know college and university alumni are proud of their alma maters and would not look kindly on dubious graduates, even fictional, appearing in literature. (LeDoux, what do you have against Texas A and M?)
Nothing. That’s why the boys matriculate at fictional Craigmore College. I know it doesn’t exist because I spent ages making up college names, only to find that, yup, there is such a college. Despite thinking outside the box, and trying to be as creative with college names as possible, apparently others beat me to it…until finally, eureka! I concocted Craigmore College. (There’s Craigmore high school, but not Craigmore college.)
Dodging a Bullet
In Sheol Rising, The Divine Meddler’s sequel currently “under construction,” I created a company of dubious honor. As I approached the last few chapters, I thought it may be a good idea to check and see if there is such a company. Let’s just say I avoided a nasty lawsuit.
That was one bullet. Others are more subtle and that’s where I am grateful for the expertise of fellow writers. I recall writing about A&P grocery stores in Texas. John set me straight on that and said the big food market in Texas would be T.E.D. and not A&P. Another writer reminded me I had to be sure a certain character’s cell phone GPS was destroyed, thus avoiding a hole in the plot.
Some goofs may jump out at only a few readers. I read about a writer who received a letter from a reader informing him the airport in Bern, Switzerland was not equipped to handle his story’s particular aircraft.
Other bloopers can be bad enough to insult the reader’s sense of credulity. That happened to me as I was enjoying a well known author’s novel. To avoid the typical flashback, he used a trial transcript to convey the backstory. Now it just so happened, as I was clearing my husband’s office, I found an actual trial transcript in which he had testified. The author’s “transcript” read like a novel, while the transcript I held in my hand was dry, full of facts mixed with “ers” and “ahs.” It was a real transcript. I should have been captivated, but it was too tedious to read for pleasure. Yawn. It couldn’t serve as good backstory.To use a transcript, it must read like a transcript, not like a novel.
We writers must keep readers engaged in the fictional worlds we create. Otherwise the disbelief they kindly suspended will crash down on their heads…and we don’t want that to happen to the best people on earth.