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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Willing Suspension of Disbelief

While reading a historical romance this week I was reminded of some crit advice one of my writing buddies gave me--if a problem in your story can be resolved with a five minute conversation in the beginning, it needs to be fixed (or its not a strong plot element).

In other words, the reader must have a willing suspension of disbelief. If the reader can't achieve that, the plot falls apart in their fingers.

That's what happened to me while reading this book. I wanted to like the characters--and to a degree I did, more the heroine than the hero. But after the set up in the first 20 or so pages in the book, the hero and heroine could have spoken and resolved the matter quite nicely. If they had, that would have shown the solid build of the plot structure. Instead, they beat around the bush throughout the entire length of the novel and the plot was really just a flimsy facade instead that dragged on for over 300 pages.

There were other areas where I could not suspend my disbelief, one of which was that the heroine demonstrated absolutely no anger at the hero when at last (quite literally at the end of the book) the hero's deception was revealed.

I felt cheated.

I asked myself--did this writer not have a crit partner to offer her advice on the willing suspension of disbelief? Or did the author receive that advice and decide to ignore it? Or did the publisher recommend this particular approach to their novel? I don't know.

What I do know is that I desire to avoid this in my writing. But anybody who writes can tell you this is not nearly as easy as a third party makes it sound. As I mentioned, a crit partner of mine gave me this advice pertaining to one certain aspect of my own story and in all honesty, I'm still pondering the best way to fix this problem.

"Lack of communication" between characters is very commonly used as a major plot complication, especially, it seems, in romantic fiction. I think it's probably one of the reasons that I tend to read less romantic fiction and more action adventure. Lack of communication is a valid plot complication---but a writer can't be wimpy or flimsy in their use of it--it has to be held up with solid, believable rationale and actions on the part of the characters.

Using this author's novel, I think the best thing that might have helped them is time and distance from their novel. I have no way of knowing how many months or years they toiled over their story, or how long between revisions. But it seems to me, short of having a crit partner to point out the lack of believability, they would have benefitted by stepping back and coming back to the manuscript when they could look at it objectively (and from my experience, that could take several months!).

This plot could have been very solid. In fact, while reading it, I was thinking that if hero/heroine had their discussion at the beginning, it would have paved the way for the remainder of the story to be done in a very unique fashion--the two teaming up to carry out their scheme to achieve their goals. I would have had far greater respect for the characters, it would have been a fresh approach, and it wouldn't have relied on the flimsy premise of "not going to communicate to make the story last for 300 pages".

With careful thought and giving our stories the time they need to grow, authors can avoid weak plot problems.


Patti Shene said...

Excellent post, Brenda!

Patti Shene said...

Excellent post, Brenda!