Thursday, March 28, 2013

Have you checked your reality?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve given up on a book or a film – often because it’s just ‘too silly for words’ - and, from reading reviews, I know I’m not alone in that respect.

But why? Why is it silly?
I think there used to be an unwanted princess living here.
Is the answer (as some people would say) because it’s ‘not realistic’? No, we buy countless thousands of books in the genres of fantasy, super-heroes, vampires, historical romances and so forth. Fiction is big business and the public’s appetite is insatiable.

By the very definition of fiction, no matter how well researched and no matter how 'true to life' a story is, come the diurnal/nocturnal interface (that's a pseud's way of saying 'the end of the day'), it's pure invention. It’s not reality, it’s make-believe, so the answer as to why we find a book or a film silly isn’t because it’s not like reality.

Fiction has its own dynamic which can be called ‘plausibility’.

Note that I said ‘plausibility’ not ‘realism’. The words ‘logical’ or even ‘natural’ (albeit ambiguous under the circumstances) would also have sufficed.

Some authors see 'plausible' as meaning that they have to stick to known facts e.g. the Earth has one moon, that World War 2 finished in 1945, and that nothing can travel faster than light.


Plausibility means that wherever the story leads, it has to be in keeping with whatever you have told the reader beforehand. Consequently, it is perfectly permissible for an author to digress from universally accepted facts, as long as the reader has been properly prepared.

Plausible does not mean that it has to be capable of coming true.

The key to getting away with having superheroes fly and zombies walk the streets is not to just state that's what they do, it's to have some train of logic which supports your character's attributes. Such fantastical creatures will not appeal to everyone but it's exactly the same deal with everything from costume dramas to police procedurals.
Seen any zombies?
If you want a princess to elope with the second gardener's assistant, that's perfectly OK as long as you make it plausible. Their original meeting must not appear contrived, the subsequent conversations must be totally natural (as much as such a thing could be) and the affair must find a way of blossoming.

It's just the same if you're writing Westerns, war stories or space operas. The majority of your audience will forgive a great deal of 'spurious science' and will stick with you if what you write is plausible based on the parameters that you have set (usually in the opening chapter). If you want your six-shooters to be eight-shooters or you want your tanks to have turrets fore and aft, that's OK. Yes, if you're looking for realism, this won't win any prizes, but a story doesn't need realism to be plausible.

That's the point.

When it comes down to the wire, you set the scene and define the parameters. It's your story and people will enjoy it if you stick by the rules which you set for yourself.

Reality relates to non-fiction; fiction needs to be plausible.

Clive West is a successful novelist, short story writer and publisher. His full-length and much-acclaimed novel, The Road, tells the story of the petty corruption that surrounds the construction of a new ring road and the unforeseen and uncared for tragedies that this deceit causes to ordinary people.

Apart from writing, Clive runs Any Subject Books Ltd along with his wife and co-writer, Damaris West. New writers are always welcome at the agency.

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