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How to Combat Common Plausibility Flaws
The issue of plausibility is crucial to writing fiction. You need to make your readers forget they are reading a story that didn’t happen. You have to make them suspend disbelief.
All readers approach fiction with the willingness to partake in your lies. That is the fundamental goodwill contract they enter when they choose to read a work of fiction. We know Harry Potter, Atticus Finch, and Elizabeth Bennet are not real people. But because their famous authors describe their world with so much elegance and faithfulness to facts, these remarkable fictional characters feel so real.
COMMON PLAUSIBILITY PROBLEMS
If your reader stops believing for an instant the premise, motivation, descriptions, or actions in your story, you’ve broken your end of the deal, and they are no longer enchanted. There are several common ways the problem of plausibility may occur, and I have broadly categorized them into four.
1. FACTUAL: This happens when writers fail to get their facts right. It is so easy how this could creep into your writing, especially when you assume a lot of facts instead of researching them. Not all countries make use of designated survivors, or use the metric system, or drive on the right-hand side. You need to do thorough research that ensures the events in your story are factually possible and devoid of these lazy mistakes that are relatively easy to correct.
2. LOGISTICAL: Here, the problem is that the actions in your story just can’t happen because they wouldn’t make sense. If your character doesn’t know how to bend gravity, he would die if he falls from the top floor of a twenty-story building. A quiet, easygoing, nonviolent soccer mom cannot suddenly become an action figure, shooting machine guns and jumping out of planes without any logical explanation.
3. TECHNICAL: These mistakes are the product of not understanding the craft of storytelling. If your story is written from the first-person point of view, it would be implausible for the narration to contain facts that the narrator has no way of knowing as he is not privy to such information. Your first-person narrator can’t vividly narrate what he didn’t witness; you will lose the reader with such technical inconsistencies.
4. PSYCHOLOGICAL: This is the most common and grievous breach of plausibility. This has to do with a faulty motivation that doesn’t convincingly explain why your characters do the things they do. A story about a hero abandoning his comfortable life to embark on a treasure hunt should portray enough motivation that readers can understand. If what propels a character doesn’t seem likely to readers, your story would be a waste of time to them. Readers need to see that your main character either had no choice or had good reasons for their choices.
More than letting readers know how your characters feel, your readers also need to share those feelings. The way to ensure that they are devoted to your story is to implicate them in the desires and passion of your characters. That is the power behind your favorite classic novel, be it Pride and Prejudice, The Hunger Games, or The Harry Potter series.
THE GOLDEN RULE OF SUSPENDING DISBELIEF
The problem often is the belief that a religious adherence to plausibility will inhibit imagination and creativity, but that is not the case. Making your story plausible enhances your imagination and creativity. Even in science fiction and epic stories, you need to create an imaginary world with a set of rules that make the actions and descriptions in them plausible. There is no problem with being imaginative, including wild elements and actions in your story. But in doing this, you have to prepare your readers with prior, well-researched, and well-structured information.
Readers will happily dismiss their disbelief, even in a story with mystical creatures, if they feel their emotional and logical questions have been fully answered, and the story world is internally consistent. Plausibility doesn’t need your story to be consistent with facts of the real world, except your story is based on the real world. What is more important is that your narrative adheres to the facts of your imagined world. But this doesn't give you the license to unconvincing motivations, illogical plot twists, and very convenient coincidences.
Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen