We’ve all heard the expression, “You can’t make these things up.”
For instance, you might get an eviction notice and be served divorce papers on the same day that your dog dies and you have an auto accident that puts you in the hospital with a broken back, which leads to your ex getting the kids full time and you being fired since you missed picking the kids up from school and you missed completing a crucial report at work. Whew! I’m glad I actually did make that up, because I’d hate to be this person! She’d probably be impossible to console, too.
If you saw all of these events happen at one time to one character in a novel, you’d probably make the decision to suspend disbelief along about the time the dog dies because surely nobody in real life could have this much bad luck. But the fact is, a number of great or terrible events can certainly come in clumps. Yet for the reader of a novel, there must be a method to your madness, and each event must cause the plot to progress and the character to grow.
How about emotions that don’t make sense?
Renaldo says, “I don’t like that guy.”
“Why?” Evangeline asks.
Renaldo shrugs. “I dunno. I just don’t.”
And “that guy” can give Renaldo and his family a week-long all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas but Renaldo still won’t like him. Renaldo himself may never know why.
We can get away with listening to gut feelings in real life, going about our business and trying to avoid “that guy” as much as we can. But rarely does this work in fiction. There must be a clear and understandable motivation for emotions. True, you can write an exchange between two characters like the one above. But that exchange is used as a foreshadowing that Renaldo is on to something and the reader better keep a close eye on “that guy” because a plot twist will hinge on him. When it does, Renaldo’s feelings need to be justified when we find out just how cruel “that guy” really is.
Readers read novels to entertain, but also to learn. Through fiction, we can see characters struggle with this thing called life. And we can learn from fiction all about a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day.
What is the best nugget of wisdom you have learned from a novel?
Name a novel where as a reader you had to believe the extraordinary. Was the story worth suspending disbelief?