Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Are Your Plots and Characters Real?

This is a pretty simple question. Are your plots realistic? Are your characters realistic? It doesn't matter if we are talking about paranormal characters or fantasy characters, the reality of your story, especially in romance and women's fiction, is crucial for the success of the book. Your readers have to be able to relate to the things going on in the book for the emotional impact of the book to take effect.

I was recently reading a submission for a contemporary romance set in a small town in "Somewhere, USA" and frankly the reality just wasn't there for me. First of all, this is one of those small towns with one main street and maybe the one blinking light at the central intersection. This is one of those towns where the population was born there, worked there and would probably die there. They have "town socials" and, in all likelihood, everyone went down to the local diner to "have Sunday lunch after going to the one church in town." We're talking small here. That part I can work with.

But, with a town this small, there isn't much you can do with building a romance. These people went to school together so seeing a "romance grow" is going to be tough since the relationship is already there. So, in an effort to "make it interesting" the author had to bring in some outside elements to spice things up. First of all, the town decided to put in a "full scale hospital." We're talking the big one with the neo-natal, the cancer research centers and so forth. The rationale was that someone in town several years ago came down with something bad and to drive them to "the big city" was too much and the person died. So now they are going to put in this huge hospital.

I know what the author was thinking. This is a great conflict of big city vs. small city. The heroine has lived here her whole life and is dedicated to keeping the town small but Mr. Hot Big City guy is here to develop (or something like that.)

The reality here breaks down with the initial situation. A) we have a town that we had to rip from the 1950's and sounds more like Andy Griffith's Mayberry; B) the odds are the town has a way to get people to the big city in cases such as this and that person probably was going to die anyway; C) No hospital board of directors would think this is a great financial move.

This is one of those reality situations.

But the reality doesnt' just have to be with the setting or the plot. It is also with the characters. Again, I think far too many authors are so hung up with coming up with this great plot, that their characters end up taking the back seat in the planning. Now we end up with characters that act and behave in ways that just don't seem natural. Consider some of the following that I see far too often:
  • The ex-military hero with PTSD deciding to be the local sheriff... um guns and death people?
  • The heroine who decides to throw away her 6 figure salary after one small bad day at the office to return to "Small Town, USA" and run a restaurant... but she doesn't have any experience.
  • The Medieval story with the Lord or Lady falling for someone who is nothing more than a servant on their property... guess what? They wouldn't have been hanging out together.
  • A character falling madly in love with another character after only seeing the person walk into a store... (it might be lust and a desire to have "I wonder what it would be like to have sex" thoughts but not love.
  • The heroine who thinks the kiss of the boss at an business meeting was hot and not sexual harassment considering they have never really been around each other.
I think you get the idea here. The question you have to ask yourself is "How would a real person act in a real situation like this. The odds are in the above situations:
  • The military guy would take a job AWAY from guns and violence.
  • Our 6 figure business woman would A) not throw away a job after one bad day; and B) would likely just move to another company in the city if it was that bad.
  • The Medieval people would pair up with someone in their own social classes.
  • The lustful thought people would leave it at just that, or if it was really that bad, would have to find the courage to meet up with this person after a couple of those "chance meetings." (unless you are an 18 yr. old on Spring Break and who knows what would happen?)
  • ...and our business people... she would slap him and maybe file that harassment charge; and he would probably not do that at all.
What writers have to realize, is that relationship stories and those about "real people" require the audience and the reader to be with you for the entire ride. This is referred to as "Reader Response Theory" in the literary criticism world. In other words, the story gains its meaning from the reaction and the interaction with the reader. When you break down that line of communication with an unrealistic idea, then the story falls apart.


  1. When I wrote that, I knew something didn't sound right! Thanks for catching that!