Friday, October 7, 2011

Advice for Character Creation and Plotting - Keep It Real

I have been reading a ton of submissions lately and one of the comments I have found myself making time and time again is that the story is simply forced. Either the plotline or the characters are coming across as far from being real. It seems as if the writer is trying too hard to make everything come together in the story.

The problem lies with one key factor. The writers have not looked at what is happening in their stories in a "real context." The truth of the matter is that, in the real world, these stories would probably never happen? The writer has piled on so much to the story or focused so much on individual scenes that they failed to see if something like this would likely happen.

Now, for all of you who write sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal, don't think you are out of the conversation here. Your characters and the way they act have to be human like as well. I don't care if it is a vampire, we have to, as readers, believe something like this would happen.

The key to the success of a book is the ability for the reader to be drawn into the story and to relate to the things that are going on. Even in horror, readers want to relate to the characters. There are, in fact, numerous communication theorists who have noted that people watch these movies to "live out their fears" in a safe environment.

When you are writing, you have to always stop and examine what you are doing. Sure the scene may be great. Sure the concept you might be throwing out there may be unique and fun, but is it something that truly would happen in the real world and would the characters actually do it?

Just something to think about over the weekend.



  1. I understand what you're saying. I just read a romance by a very popular author but I questioned plausability with certain scenes and character actions. When I complained to a friend who read the same book, she replied, "It's fiction. It's entertainment. It's not reality."
    This book made me laugh out loud and the characters were memorable, but I questioned things that seemed 'forced.' As I said, popular author and equally popular book. As a writer myself, I just find myself wondering, do you call it off-beat and quirky so readers understand that your characters will do things not based in reality?
    Where's the line?

  2. just a question from someone who writes fantastical (not to be confused with fantasy): could we substitute "authentic" or "organic" for real. my point here is that if you write surreal/quirky stuff, then the plot is not "real-world" material. that said, the characters have to be consistent to the strange situation you've set up. just a question.

  3. I'd have to say it all comes down to the characters. Because you can write a werewolf or magical book where obviously these things don't happen. But to get the reader to suspend disbelief you need to write characters that are so compelling the reader comes along for the ride, regardless.

    Not that I'm great shakes at this myself, but I've read authors who can do it, and a lot who can't.

  4. I think you said something to that effect in the rejection letter you sent me Scott, and it actually had me sitting back and taking a longer look at where I was going with my story line and what I wanted to accomplish. As a result, I've been working on revising several key areas you mentioned. It is for these reasons that feedback and blogs from agents like yourself, publishers, etc. is so valuable to writers. It reminds us to step back and take a look at the whole and not write it off as unfounded criticism. Thank you for taking the time - with all of this. :)

  5. I know what you're saying. Forcing the plot or the characters. It's one thing that they end up doing something quirky or out there, but it's another thing where you make them do something out of character because you NEED it to advance the plot.

    I just watched the movie Elysium and saw exactly that. [spoilers, don't read on]


    1) Shooting at the refugee ships from earth instead of from the space station. Who in their right might shoots away from the target? You have to overcome the earth's gravitational field and you risk hitting the space station if you miss. But... because they needed the ship to arrive on Elysium, they set up this dumb tactic.

    2) Cancelling the no-fly zone right away when Max is captured. Really? What bonehead would do that? The target is not secured. But, they needed to allow Max's cohorts to be able to take off and land on Elysium so they can help him.

    3) The entire, we need to put the boot code in some guy's mind so he can bring it back to Elysium. Boggles my mind. First, why is the boot code stored in computers on Earth which is an obviously unsecured zone. Second, why in that guy's head? What security was there? Obviously none, since Max downloaded it to his brain easily.

    4) do not even go into the unrealistic fight scenes, or how a guy who has half his face blown off can still be alive enough to be reanimated. or a guy who has a wound in his gut bleeding out can run and hide, then get stitched up without surgery, antibiotics, etc. or even the entire radiation poisoning, you have 5 days to live.

    But... as my husband pointed out, they sold the script. You didn't.