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This week: Chaos vs RealismEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about keeping coincidences out of your stories.
"It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense."
~ Mark Twain
"Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible."
~ Francis Bacon
"Every writer knows he is spurious; every fiction writer would rather be credible than authentic."
~ John Le Carre
"Good fiction must be entertaining, but what makes fiction special - and True - is that the realness of a novel allows it to carry a larger message."
~ Jerry B. Jenkins
"Fiction was invented the day Jonas arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale."
~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Chaos vs Realism
Life Is Chaotic. Fiction Isn't.
Many authors and writing instructors tell their students, "Life is chaotic. Fiction isn't." Their point is that random events occur daily that can alter things in real life. The world is full of chaos and coincidence. But in fiction, readers want order, purpose, and cause-and-effect relationships. They want to know why. If the plot line follows no logical path, if discoveries haven't been hinted at previously in the story, or if there are too many coincidences, the readers will roll their eyes and go find something else to read.
An example -- a short flash fiction written just for you with loads of coincidences in it.
The Mud Monster
Susan dashed across the forest floor at dusk. Brief flashes of lightning flickered between the trees. Behind her, the monster's oversized feet crunched through the underbrush. She'd never meant to awaken it---never imagined something made of sticks and earth could really move---but the broken bodies of her friends back at the campsite proved it could do far worse than move.
She glanced back. It was three feet away, reaching for her. She shrieked. Lightning slashed into the treetops. With a crash, a burning limb fell on the beast, pinning it down. But even as she watched, it heaved the branch off and lurched to its feet.
Susan stumbled away and spotted a nearby gas station. "Help!"
A lone figure stood by a pump. "Susan? Is that you?"
"Brad!" She leaped into her boyfriend's arms. "What are you doing here?"
"I was driving to my uncle's, and my car broke down a mile back."
"Look!" Susan pointed at the giant shape shambling through the woods toward them. "We have to hide."
Brad pulled her into the station's office and locked the door. Seconds later, it shuddered under the impact of heavy blows.
"The hinges will break!" Susan chewed on a nail, watching Brad gather oil cans and rags and pull a dust-covered coffee maker from the wall. In a minute, he'd wired the things together and placed them by the door. "What's that?" she asked.
"It's a tripwire bomb. I learned how to make them when I was a Navy Seal. Quick! Out the back door."
As they ran outside, a deafening explosion rocked the room behind them. When she peered back, the monster charged through the smoke. It grabbed Brad. He struggled with it, digging clods of dirt out of its body, but he couldn't get free.
With a crack of thunder, rain hammered down and drenched them. The monster began to dissolve. Twigs tumbled off it. Leaves and dirt sluiced down and joined mud pooling at its feet.
Moments later, Brad dragged himself out of a pile of mud, wet and dirty, but alive. The rain continued to pour until every trace of the creature washed away.
This story's unbelievable parts:
The lightning. It's possible for lightning to strike a lone player on a golf course, or a lone tree in a forest. But the exact tree out of all the forest that happens to be above the monster? Not believable.
The gas station. Since Susan and her friends were at a campsite, it's doubtful there'd be a gas station "nearby."
Brad. Her boyfriend shows up just when Susan needs him. And he's there because his car just happened to break down in that area. Too coincidental.
Skills. It's hard enough to believe Brad was a Navy Seal who can make bombs, but that he can make one from junk lying around a gas station is really piling it on. Or maybe he's MacGyver's little brother?
The rainstorm. Just when there's no hope for the characters, they're saved by a rainstorm. It sure is lucky for them the rain didn't start fifteen minutes later, huh?
Realism is key to keeping the reader involved in your story. This means characters must have reasons to be where they are and reasons for doing what they're doing. They can't suddenly display skills they need just in the nick of time. "Luck" shouldn't play a part in how the characters defeat the monster/villain in the end.
Foreshadowing can solve some of these problems. If you're going to use something important, you have to mention it beforehand. For example, if Brad is a Navy Seal with mad skills, Susan has to know and think about these facts as she's running so it's not a surprise. If the monster can be dissolved by water, don't have a freak rainstorm do it. Have the characters know about its weakness and get a hold of a hose or force the monster into a river.
Freaky and chaotic things happen in real life, but everything in a work of fiction should make sense to the reader. Weird things can happen, but they must have a believable cause.
Keep the details believable by making them realistic.
Foreshadow important things before they happen so they aren't surprises.
Make sure the villain or monster's weaknesses are known by the characters and that it's killed because of planned actions, not luck.
Question: What plot holes or unbelievable things have you seen in movies or read in books that really annoyed you? (Reply below.)
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Here are some spooky stories for your reading pleasure!
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To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter: "Happy Halloween 2012!" Thank you!
Comments listed in the order they were received.
BIG BAD WOLF is Feeling Lucky submits "Vampires and Werewolves" and writes: Sometimes you wonder.
Yup. A lot of things make me wonder.
C.Evil writes: Thanks for the great facts about Halloween!
You're welcome! Thanks for writing to me.
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