[Have been engrossed in a murder-mystery, come thriller manuscript that I wrote in 2009, and then filed away. Wrote it so long ago I have to read it to find out what happened. So, completely forgot to post my 100-word challenge last week.
Anyway, Dad’s mid-life crisis vehicles keep rolling in. Was this new development a reflection of the direction Dad’s mid-life crisis was taking? Or was he just having a go?]
100-Word Challenge — Have a Go
After lunch at Grandma’s one Sunday, my cousin showed off his prized Ducati. Inspired, Dad resolved to have a go, and buy his own motorbike.
The first hint that Dad was dissatisfied with current transport-arrangements, was expressed in a progressive story game, where he described money-saving qualities of a motorbike. I pointed out the dangers, my cousin’s friend had died in a motorbike accident.
Soon after, Dad came puttering down the driveway on Putt-Putt, a bright orange motorbike. From then on, for a time, Dad puttered his way from Somerton to work in Port Adelaide. Everyone was happy, until…the accident.
[Another fond memory from my childhood…and Dad’s catchcry, “for the time being” took a breather when, after being promoted to Deputy Principal (Primary School), he bought the Holden Premier.]
Serena, our dream family car ferried the T-Team to Canberra. In 1975, hardly a maiden for this voyage, she drove us to our destination; a comfortable, safe ride over the Hay Plains. No breakdowns. No stranded waiting for road service on the hot dusty side of the road. A smooth ride that rocked me to sleep; the vinyl with scent fresh from the caryard to us.
She mounted the snow shovelled roads to Thredbo. From her window, my first sight of snow on a brilliant sunny day, snow shining on twisted eucalypt branches.
[Again, COVID, that uninvited guest has thwarted my visit to Carol’s. This time although she’s well, she’s a close contact and must isolate for 7 days. Meanwhile, I have been working on my writing and have been reflecting on what I have learnt makes for a good story.]
Unbelievable to Believable
Unbelievable, that’s what they said about my novel. Unbelievable. Is that why my first novel, Mission of the Unwilling has failed to thrive? Why there’s no feedback? Or is it a case of someone who’s not a Young Adult, and just not into Sci-Fi?
Whatever, I consider this feedback valid and believable. Over the next few months, I plan to revisit Minna’s world and her adventures at the mercy of Boris and learn from my venture into self-publishing. Nothing is wasted. The take-away from the most recent honest feedback—make my stories believable.
What does this mean for me as I refine the craft of story-telling?
My characters are real to the reader.
The setting is authentic, so that the reader can step into my constructed “world” suspending all disbelief.
The audience buy into the journey they take into that world.
But, what does “suspending disbelief” mean. I mean, really? I mean, when I revisit my stories, to me, the characters are alive, the setting an on-site movie set, and I gladly invest in the tale told. Not so for some of my readers, apparently. In truth, I’m too close to my work to view it objectively. I need and appreciate feedback from others. I’d go as far as to say that most writers benefit from a second, third, fourth or umpteenth pair of eyes to make their work the best it possibly can be.
So, from the perspective as a reader, that extra pair of eyes on other works, here’s what I’ve learnt that suspends disbelief and do some unpacking of techniques that make characters, setting and journey more believable.
Believable characters: Someone with whom you connect. You know that person. You’ve met them. You’ve had lunch them. You’ve admired them. They’ve annoyed you with their quirky habits. They’re those people you see across a crowded coffee shop and already you’ve constructed a whole story around them, by observing their posture, expressions and gestures. You invest time following what they’ll do, what will happen to them. Believable characters don’t have to be human, but they do need human qualities and personality for readers to relate to them.
Believable setting: Best woven into the forward-moving action of the story. The writer describes the setting with the five senses, what you: 1) see, 2) hear, 3) touch, 4) smell, and 5) taste. And for the world to be memorable, the author picks up something unique or odd about the place. For example, I may write of Palm Valley in Central Australia, ‘Ghost gums jut out of the tangerine rock-face, and a soft wind rustles through the prehistoric palms.’
Believable Story: You need to convince your readers that such a sequence of events can happen. A skilful writer uses the technique of cause and effect. The character makes a choice, and their actions result in consequences often leading to dilemma that must be resolved. Readers are more likely to engage with proactive characters who influence their environment and others, and who make active choices to change and grow, rather than the passive characters who have every disaster happen to them, and their problems magically solved.
Yes, pile on the misery, pile on the challenges, don’t be afraid to get your characters into strife; that’s what the reader’s looking for. But remember, the chain of events must be believable. An article by Laurence Block, Keeping Your Fiction Shipshape*, describes the relationship between storyteller and audience is like enticing readers onto a cruise ship, keeping them there, and delivering them back to port with a good satisfying end.
It’s the skill of the storyteller to convince the audience. If the characters are believable, the setting is believable, and the action believable, your readers will enjoy the ride and complete the journey you, as the storyteller, takes them on.
[Why Notre dame? Victor Hugo, the author of Hunchback of Notre-Dame, spent the first three-quarters of the book describing the setting. Useful if you visit Paris, but does nothing for moving the story forward.
Also tourists willing to invest in the journey to climb Notre-Dame by waiting several hours in the long line that stretched the length of the Cathedral. What will they see? The gargoyles (characters), a view of Paris (setting) and a climb and walk through the Cathedral (the journey).]