by Donna Galanti @DonnaGalanti
In becoming an author and reader across genres, I’ve discovered a compelling novel is an emotional experience. If we fall in love with the characters in a book we can forgive some plot errors–but not all–and we can just believe. And if we believe, we stay in the fiction dream. James Scott Bell, in his workshop Structure of a Novel, emphasized this. We need to keep the reader entranced in the fiction dream. But how do we do that? Create a world to support them.
My developmental editor, Kathryn Craft, reinforced Bell’s advice. She advised me that to keep the fiction dream alive we need to have our readers suspend disbelief–and never, ever show our underpants. What does this mean? It means that we must create a world in which a plot point can happen. Don’t create an event just to “show” something.
For example, a scene reveals a daughter’s healing powers. The mother falls from a barn window onto a pitchfork and the daughter heals her.
But, we have no creepy sensation that all was not well:
· There is no violent wind
· No portent of doom
· No anxious horses stampeding
· No prior warning of the pitchfork danger
The world was not created to support the plot point. The author just needed this accident to happen so the daughter’s powers could be revealed. The author showed her underpants. She didn’t cover herself. Literally. That’s just not cool. And it does not create heart-pumping tension and suspense.
In fiction, accidents and coincidence don’t help a plot unless they are carefully contrived and built up. As readers we don’t want to read about a world in where stuff happens just like in real life. We want an ordered world where even if the character didn’t see it coming–we did.
Can outlandish plot points be bought by the reader? Yes, but to accept big jumps in plausibility the reader must believe it was the only one possible way it could go down–and the way the author chose it to.
Authors need to use all the goodies in their writer’s toolbox to create believable scenes that keep the reader invested in the story and the characters’ dilemmas, no matter how outlandish. It’s all about keeping the fiction dream alive.
I want the fiction dream. To read it and write it. I don’t want to see plain old underpants. And as an author, I will keep my own undies tucked away from now on. Thank you very much.
Donna Galanti is the author of the paranormal suspense novel, A Human Element, called “a riveting debut that had me reading till the wee hours of the night” by international bestselling author M.J. Rose. She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Donna lives with her family in an old farmhouse in PA with lots of nooks, fireplaces, and stinkbugs but sadly no ghosts. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com
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