Ask Jami: How Can We Make a Story Believable?

by Jami Gold on December 11, 2014

in Writing Stuff

Card hand of 4 aces with text: What Makes a Story Unbelievable?

Years ago, I talked about some of the issues that can take a reader out of the story. It’s an important problem to learn about because as soon as immersion is broken for a reader, their suspension of disbelief is at risk.

There are plenty of books and movies I’ve enjoyed until about five minutes after the end. Then my analytical nature takes over and thinks, “Hey, wait a minute…,” and I start deconstructing all the aspects that didn’t make sense. (My family’s plot hole analyses are epic. *smile*)

At least in those cases, I was pulled enough into the story that I didn’t notice the issues until after the fact (which is why it’s so important to keep readers immersed). What’s even worse is if the unbelievable aspects are bad enough to kick readers out of the story midway.

Those readers aren’t likely to pick up the book again. Or if they do, it might be to live tweet all the details they find craptastic or to write a hate-read review. Obviously then, we want to make our story as believable as possible, within the expectations of our genre.

Today’s post is prompted by a question from P.J. Quirino:

“What does it mean to make a story believable? Does it mean to create scenes and world and emotions in the story that a reader can relate to and can feel what the character feels?”

That’s not a straightforward question because there are many ways our stories can feel unbelievable. Let’s dig deeper and see if we can discover some tips and elements to watch out for.

The Many Faces of Unbelievable Storytelling

Storytelling is always about finding a balance. We have to make our stories clear enough to avoid confusion, but we also need to leave enough in the subtext that our prose isn’t too on-the-nose. We have to explore our characters’ emotions to lure in our readers, but we don’t want to slow down the pace. And we have to make our plot both unexpected and inevitable at the same time.

(Easy, right? Or not…)

When it comes to believability, issues could crop up within the plot, characters, or worldbuilding. We have to find the right balance within each of those areas, or readers won’t buy the story we’re selling (literally and figuratively).

(I really hope no one ever told you that writing would be easy. *smile*)

However, there’s no always-right “don’t do this” advice because believability varies widely by genre. Unless we’re writing the equivalent of the novel version of the movie From Dusk to Dawn, what’s going to be believable in a contemporary bank heist story is going to be different from what’s believable in a vampire horror story.

So the first aspect of believability to check might be:

  • Ensure the premise is plausible within the bounds of genre expectations.

As I mentioned in my older post:

“Science fiction authors have to make the technology sound believable. Legal thrillers have to play out according to set laws. Paranormal authors have to decide if modified DNA, magic, or other things determine the rules of the world.”

Furthermore, within each of the genres, there’s variety based on tone, mood, setting, etc. A spy thriller could be based in U.S. Revolutionary War days and be light but serious, or a spy thriller could be based in contemporary Japan and be dark but funny. Each of those variations will change the suspension of disbelief necessary, as well as the line for plausible and believable.

If we receive feedback that our story isn’t believable, but we’re not suffering from any of the specific problems below, we might want to double check reader expectations. Was there a mismatch between our genre, premise, style, or setting? Did readers expect one kind of story and we delivered a different kind of story?

In that case, we might look at our genre category, book description, tagline, or marketing. Those are all things we could change to match the story we have, rather than trying to redesign our whole story.

However, many times something might be unbelievable within the story itself and need to be resolved. Let’s take a look at the most likely culprits.

Frequent Issues with Unbelievable Plots

Coincidences:

Storytelling doesn’t like coincidences when they make the situation too easy on the character. This is the “Oh, she just happened to run into the person she was looking for but didn’t know how to find” problem. It’s too convenient to be believable.

Random events that are coincidences are only liked when they make things harder on the characters. Harder = Okay. Easier = Not Okay.

Too Convoluted:

When plots get so convoluted that readers are confused, they might give up trying to figure it out and just think it’s too implausible. In other words, this is the opposite of too many easy coincidences. Here, there are too many moving pieces to believe that they’d all come together for the resolution in a realistic way.

Not Enough Conflict or Tension:

This is similar to the coincidences issue, in that things are too easy for our characters. Life is hard, so readers want to see the characters struggle. It’s too unbelievable when they skate through the story.

Forcing Too Stupid To Live (TSTL) Actions

Some plot events force the character to act as puppets to the plot. They have to do something the character would know was A Bad Idea because without it, the plot falls apart. Readers can’t believe the character would do such a stupid thing.

Frequent Issues with Unbelievable Characters

No Motivation:

This is the character side of the issue of being a puppet to the plot. If we have to make characters do something for the plot to work, we need to give them really good reasons to do that thing, and those reasons need to fit their character. We can’t have a character suddenly take a stand on, say, violence, unless we’ve established their commitment to pacifism earlier. The motivations have to feel true to the character to be believable.

Too Perfect:

Real people are flawed, so characters that have no flaws don’t seem real. It’s often our characters’ flaws that make them relatable. Imperfect characters are more believable.

Mary Sue/Gary Stu:

Mary Sue or Gary Stu characters are often too perfect and cliché, but another common trait of these characters is that all the other characters love and adore them. This trait creates low conflict and makes things too easy for them during the story. All those problems added together create a very unbelievable character.

Inconsistent Characterization:

Nice people aren’t always nice, but in books, if a character acts differently from how readers expect, more explanation is needed. For example, a character could be nice but show meanness in a scene if a reason is given.

Were they upset or tired? Do they feel guilty now? If those reasons aren’t given to show how their different character traits interact and relate, the character’s characterization will feel too convoluted and unbelievable.

Mismatched Emotions:

Part of making a character relatable is making them somewhat predictable based on what we know of real people. If we know a character has a horrible backstory wound about being betrayed, we’d predict that their motivations would lead them to try to avoid being betrayed again, and if it happens again anyway, we’d predict that they’d be devastated, or at least upset.

If characters don’t react strongly enough—or react too strongly—that mismatch can make them seem not real. Readers need to buy into our characters to suspend their disbelief for everything else. Like the characterization issue above, if characters don’t react as readers expect, an explanation is needed to keep them believable.

Frequent Issues with Worldbuilding

Details Don’t Make Sense or Fit Together:

Was the magic system explained one way in this scene and another way in that scene? Was an Army Private placed in charge of a platoon? Was a billionaire flying coach?

Some worldbuilding issues come down to premise issues, while others suffer from being poorly thought out or explained. Either way, the details have to make sense to be believable.

Not Enough Details:

Even worse than a poor explanation is not explaining some aspect of the world at all. At least with a poor explanation, readers might assume that we thought about the issue. When there’s no explanation, we leave readers with the impression that we couldn’t be bothered or that we were oblivious to the need.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “hand-waved it away,” the core problem is often a lack of details. Think of the wizard saying, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Dorothy and her companions didn’t believe that line and neither will our readers.

Finding and Fixing Believability Issues

Honestly, that list above is just the issues I thought of off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more, and I hope we’ll compare notes in the comments.

Like many aspects of our writing, we might not be able to find these problems on our own. We once again have to rely on our beta readers, critique groups, or editors to help us identify aspects that aren’t believable. Hopefully this list will give us a head start on figuring out what the cause might be.

By analyzing those problems above, we can see many similar threads. Our stories need to:

  • be plausible within our genre,
  • mesh the style, setting, and genre,
  • avoid making things too easy for our characters (show the struggle),
  • not make things so convoluted that only coincidences could force the pieces into place,
  • provide appropriate explanations for actions, motivations, and worldbuilding specifics, and
  • make characters seem real and relatable through flaws, emotions, hardships, etc.

All that said, believability is often a subjective measure. Some readers can’t suspend their disbelief enough to read fantastical stories at all. So don’t panic if one reader thinks something isn’t believable that others think is just fine. Our goal here is to make our story believable enough that most readers will become immersed. Because immersed readers turn the page. *smile*

Have you ever read an unbelievable story, and if so, what made it unbelievable to you? Have you ever received feedback that your story was unbelievable? Did you figure out the issue, and if so, how? Can you think of other issues that frequently cause believability issues? Do you have other advice for how to fix those issues?

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38 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee December 11, 2014 at 7:08 am

This is one of those, well, interesting things with series.

I write unreliable narrators who not infrequently make assumptions or misinterpret things. I’ve had a few readers complain, “But X!” and the answer is “Precisely.” (Which is part of why I think my work qualifies as a literary-genre blend.) I’ve gotten a few comments from readers who say “Something feels off, but I’m not sure what…” and then in reading book 4 on Wattpad, they’ve gone, “OH! I get it!”

Like any other writing choice, it limits my audience to readers who don’t notice or who notice but are willing to stick with it to see if it’s intentional…but it also means that once a reader sticks with it and enjoys the intentionality of it, they go looking for other things I’ve written, too.

(My newsletter is set up so folks can sign up for news about specific genres/pennames/story worlds. So far, EVERYONE has signed up for updates about “all”.)

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Jami Gold December 11, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Hi Carradee,

Great point! For every story, there’s a balance between explaining too much (like an info dump) and not enough. We do want to create story questions. Questions=good. Confusion=bad. 🙂

That’s a tricky balance in any story much less when we’re dealing with a series. I recently read a review of a story I loved complaining that xyz (the issue tying the series together) wasn’t explained at the end of book one. Of course it wasn’t–that’s the overall series mystery. It wasn’t a confusing aspect, so I trusted the author to build on that in later stories. Some people just want instant gratification maybe? LOL!

The best we can do is develop an author voice that conveys confidence. If readers trust our storytelling ability, I think they’re more willing to go along on issues that feel off, trusting that we have our reasons. But that’s a highly subjective aspect of our voice and stories. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience!

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Kim December 11, 2014 at 7:52 am

When you mentioned the “modified DNA” I immediately thought of Star Wars and the midi-chlorians being the reason for someone to have the Force. I hated that explanation! It completely took me out of the story. Whenever I think of it, it makes me cringe.

Since I write historical fiction set in the 10th century, one thing I need to watch out for is creating characters who are out of their *place*. Kings and other wealthy people talked, acted, dressed, and ate in a different way than peasants. If I have kings or peasants who don’t know their place and it’s not part of the story line, then I’m doing something that isn’t believable.

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Jami Gold December 11, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Hi Kim,

LOL! Yes, that’s a great example of how fans were more willing to suspend their disbelief with less information. This is no easy balance, that’s for sure! Great examples for your genre too. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Lara Gallin December 11, 2014 at 9:17 am

A lot of science fiction films lose me in the trailer. If it’s supposed to be a fantasy type of science fiction where there are no rules, e.g. Doctor Who, the plausibility of it isn’t an issue for me. It’s films like Sunshine that bug me, where it is presented as if it were plausible. It looked great at the beginning of the trailer but then came the dodgy scientific premise which completely ruined it for me. The “human” element of the story was fine but the sci-fi backdrop was terrible for me. And in all seriousness, who would name a vessel on a mission to the Sun, Icarus?

The absolute worst offender has to be Star Trek: Into Darkness. The first ten minutes of that made me weep. If keeping the Enterprise hidden from the indigenous population was such a priority, why not stay in orbit rather than “hide” in the sea? And the volcano? Urgh. That type of volcano couldn’t possibly cause an extinction level disaster and the cold fusion bomb is nonsense. Cold fusion doesn’t make things cold, it’s fusion at room temperature as opposed to the naturally occurring hot fusion in a star. Even if it were possible to solidify the lava in the volcano, volcanoes erupt because of pressure, not heat so it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference *runs around screaming and waving hands* I get that they wanted to make a big impact and I understand the juxtaposition of fire and water, but surely they could have done it in a way which placed more value on believability than big fancy special effects. There’s a whole lot more where that came from, (who could realistically speak to a superior officer the way Kirk does and get away with it?) but I had better stop now! I know I’m being picky, not everyone frequently watches documentaries!

When it comes to science fiction in books I’m far more forgiving. I think it’s because they’re a different type of immersion. I’m willing to suspend pretty much all disbelief in respect of world-building in fantasy. As long as it’s consistent I don’t care how bonkers it is.

There is a science fiction book I’m reading at the moment which has a number of issues. The aliens don’t seem to be any different to humans but the thing that has me really flummoxed is the war they’re engaged in. It’s with a species who, when they first met, weren’t technologically advanced. After centuries of silence they suddenly reappear all guns blazing, having replicated the advanced aliens’ technology. Bearing in mind that they didn’t have any interaction with the technology, they’ve somehow managed to reverse engineer it. Both sides are now equally matched which makes no sense as it would mean that the original aliens had made no advancements in hundreds of years.

I should probably stop being so picky, most other people seemed to love it!

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Jami Gold December 11, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Hi Lara,

LOL! Yes, there was that Scarlett Johansson movie this past summer with the concept of “humans use only 10% of their brain,” which is hogwash. (I still wanted to see the movie though… 😉 )

And believe me, with all those ST:ID errors, I understand why you’d be upset. I knew only half of that and still thought it was ludicrous (now thinking of Spaceballs‘ “Ludicrous Speed” *snort*). Thanks for sharing what makes stories work or not work for you!

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Lara Gallin December 12, 2014 at 5:51 am

Ah yes, I remember that the internet was awash with derision at that!

Whether it’s a film or a book, I don’t think it’s impossible to have your cake and eat it when it comes to plausibility vs artistic licence. In the case of ST:ID, the storyline was fine and it wouldn’t have lost anything by some fine tuning.

In my WIP there’s a lot of scenes that revolve around psychic ability which I have a feeling I’ve taken a little too much licence with. Fortunately, one of my closest friends is a psychic so I shall be getting her to sort the wheat from the chaff before I get too far into revisions.

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Jami Gold December 12, 2014 at 9:16 am

Hi Lara,

Very true! Plausible storytelling is often about finding the right explanation and not about saying “you can’t do that.” 🙂 Good luck with your story and thanks for the comment!

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Davonne Burns December 11, 2014 at 11:56 am

This might be a bit nit picky of me but sometimes word choice can throw me out of a story just as readily as a glaring deus ex machina moment. Having a fantasy/medieval setting yet a character describes something in modern terminology is one of the bigger offenders. Dialog that uses more modern slang or even slang that is too antiquated to be easily understood is another issue I’ve seen crop up in the genres. Even using the wrong words for weapons gets me at times (some authors mix up broadswords with what are actually claymores).

The other thing that gets me is having a young character act too old or vice versa. I recently put down a fantasy novel after only a few pages for this reason. The whole premise was implausible to me once I realized the MC was supposed to be fourteen and I’d not once got the impression he was anything less than late 20s early 30s.

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Jami Gold December 11, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Hi Davonne,

Ooo, great point! Word choice is something that can throw us out of a story. Age is a really tricky one because I’ve known kids all over the map as far as maturity, but I understand what you mean. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Davonne Burns December 11, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Oh yeah, I understand that. Sorrow’s Fall features a sixteen year old who is very mature for his age due to circumstances, but he still acts like a sixteen year old for the most part. I think what threw me off with this was I was expected to believe that a group of hardened warriors would follow this boy just because he was a prince with a penchant for extreme violence. Though that is probably just my personal viewpoint.

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Jami Gold December 11, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Hi Davonne,

Ha! Yeah, that’s not just a voice issue but a plausibility issue if no other character ever questions that situation. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Jennifer Barricklow December 11, 2014 at 12:39 pm

My pet peeve (mentioned by Davonne) are deus ex machina resolutions. One of my favorite speculative fiction authors does that ALL THE TIME and it drives me bonkers! Her world-building, character development, and plotting (up to a point) are so amazing that I keep reading her stuff anyway, hoping that this time she won’t just reach an impasse (or arbitrary page limit) and bring in some aliens to save the day. I love everything she does…until the climax. I haven’t given up on her (yet) but I also don’t recommend her books to others because I find her resolutions so frustrating.

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Jami Gold December 11, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Hi Jennifer,

Yikes! Yeah, deus ex machina resolutions are a hard limit for me because they’re so incredibly frustrating from a storytelling perspective. I wouldn’t be able to read another book by that authors. LOL! Thanks for sharing!

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Laura December 23, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Ha – I have Greek gods in my series. The whole thing is supposed to be tongue in cheek for the most part, so I have an Irish Catholic teamed up with Athena in charge of the Time Agency, and he absolutely hates it when one of her relatives does the deus ex machina thing to get his girlfriend/future wife (Athena’s daughter) out of trouble.

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Jami Gold December 23, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Hi Laura,

LOL! That’s hysterical! That’s the story version of “hanging a lampshade” (pointing it out) on the deus ex machina technique. What a great idea! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Robin December 11, 2014 at 1:14 pm

The first three adults who read my WIP all had issues with a snowstorm at the beginning – I had in my head a 100% realistic scenario, patterned on Real World Geography. Take Buena Vista, a small town in South Park, Colorado, located around 9,000 feet elevation, the top of Cottonwood pass around 13,000 feet elevation, and then a mining claiming on the far side of the pass, down around 8,000 feet elevation.
But I didn’t want to get all bogged down explaining for flatlanders that going up 1000 feet causes climate to change equivalent to going north about 300 miles. (I guess I figured everyone knows winter comes earlier in the mountains…)
But 3 out of 3 of my first readers of those first chapters didn’t buy the snowstorm to get to the claim matching up with the nice fall weather once they got there… (palm to face). The magic was completely believable, but the reality based weather broke the suspension of disbelief… I’ve made some revisions to emphasize the elevation/weather connection… time will tell if I managed to delicately fix the issue or not…

Thanks for another great blog, Jami. 🙂

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Jami Gold December 11, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Hi Robin,

Great example! Yes, things that we take for granted–either because of our direct experience or because we know our story and characters–are some of the trickiest elements to find the right balance for. I think your fix of explaining the elevation/weather connection is the best route. Good luck and thanks for sharing! 🙂

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Laura December 23, 2014 at 12:26 pm

I can relate to that. I have a character based completely on people I have known, and her dialogue and experiences come from those people as well. Not just a few – dozens over twenty years, people in the same job, same age, same life experience “category.” But I was skewered by one beta reader who happened to be that age but yet had completely different life experience – she said that no one that age would ever think or speak that way, or be in the situations I described. :::shrug:::

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Jami Gold December 23, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Hi Laura,

Yes, the subjective nature of life–and reading preferences–means that we won’t ever be able to satisfy or appeal to everyone. All we can do is tell our story the best we can. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins) December 11, 2014 at 7:37 pm

As you know, Jami, I face this issue ALL THE TIME in my niche, and the tricky part for getting beta-readers for my work is finding a mix of readers who get my genre, and nuanced it CAN be and those not as familiar but will offer valid advice.

One the biggest problems authors who write non-natrualistic animal stories face is that we’re not 100% nonsensical but we’re also not 100% naturalistic with our nonhuman characters, either, and
I try REALLY hard to established that in the context of the STORY’S WORLD (which isn’t always one to one with the world as we know it, even if it’s set there) this is what my characters do and anyone acting outside the confines of that world has a purpose and the appropriate consequences.

But as you touch on in your post, as much as we don’t want to bog the story down with densely written explanations of every little thing, being vague about it gives the impression we don’t know the answer ourselves, and for the sake of argument let’s say we do know, but the reader thinks otherwise because they don’t know what we know as the writer, and for me I’m so detail-oriented that I don’t always know to when to pair it down and still be specific.

But I’m coming to accept that I simply write in a highly detailed (and not always concise) way, and have to pair it back as needed, because if I try too hard to be compact and concise at the start, it just reads hollow or vague in the “not good” way.

Switching from the writer to the consumer for a moment, my disbelief suspension threshold is higher than average, but there are things I try to watch for depending on where the story’s set and what it’s primary objective clashes with what you see on screen.

I recently started watching the preschool series “Paw Patrol” (I write children’s books, so this partially research! LOL) about a boy and his team of service dogs, each with their own unique skills that help their fellow citizens, and while this is an animated series, they take cues from real life service dogs, and often those traits are breed-specific.

The police dog is a German Sheppard, and the German Sheppard (or a German Sheppard mix) is a commonly used breed as a police dog because of the breed’s natural inclination to be fiercely task-oriented when expertly trained.

Dalmatians (outside the lovable Disney type) are the most commonly used breed as fire dogs (like the one on this show), though other breeds are used.

The issues I take regarding disbelief suspension are not absolute deal breakers for me (and while I’m not the target viewer, I was a preschooler once, too!) but they are notable to those of us who work with or have/had dogs in their life as pets such myself.

To avoid confusion, since the audience on this blog most likely wouldn’t watch these kind of shows unless they have kids under 7, I’ll keep my example general.

In one episode, a train track needs to be fixed, and with the usual construction dog injured and unable to operate his “Built for Canine” rig (i.e bulldozer) the police dog has to stand in, and has trouble working out how to operate it, his human leader tells him to hit the “red button” to emergency stop.

Since dogs are partially colorblind, they don’t see red that well, and it would’ve been better to have used a symbol meaning “STOP” like a cross or something.

If this were a zany and unabashedly nonsense cartoon it wouldn’t bother me, but since this series portrays animals in general and the lead dogs in particular to be as naturalistic as possible (aside from the fact that the starring canines can talk and have some human-like self-awareness), even though it’s animated, I expected they wouldn’t be able to see red that well, but it doesn’t “break the show” for me, it’s just something I like to be mindful of in my own stories.

Another old school series “Blue’s Clues” handles a world-building challenge in a clever way. In later episodes Blue (the blue dog) discovers this special room where she can speak, rather than bark in a way that mimics words, when she’s in a world similar to our own, but obviously more imagination-based (the show opens with going into a book, after all) than others given the talking inanimate objects. (Something that we “non-brand name” authors are told not to do, but that’s a rant for another time…).

That’s an example of how to work around what otherwise would be BIG disbelief suspension issues, and while many kids are more forgiving in this respect, trust me, there are those who will take you to task if you’re not careful with setting up and adhering to the rules of your world and characters.

That’s why I don’t yet dare write about horses because if I get something really wrong (even if it’s not supposed to be naturalistic like The Black Stallion of Flicka) I’ll hear from the equine enthusiasts who I’ll unmeaningly turn off, and when I say this, I’m not talking about something subjective, but something we need to address or it will bother readers, even if it’s only subconsciously, and that’s why it’s key to have readers who at least get what you’re trying to do so even if there’s consensus from both sides it’s not working, it puts things in a more accurate perspective of what’s TRULY subjective versus what will bother any reader, even the readers who read and get your niche.

This isn’t a “Can’t please everyone” issue. This is an issue that hampers the reading experience for all sides of the spectrum.

Jami, do you think part of this problem is misinterpreting “Intrigued” versus “Confused?”

I know that’s what I continue to struggle with, not only in my novels but the scripts I write for my videos, I’m in the process of paring back or shortening my original lines so they aren’t hard to read in a short period of time on screen.

This video has voice overs that help, but I do need to pair down the text on-screen.

Sometimes what’s brief for text alone reads denser on screen in a video or a more directly visual medium like comics or film.

This is why I disagree at times with the whole “The medium is NOT the message” thing because the medium honestly CAN effect the experience for the end reader/viewer.

That’s why movie or television adaptations of books don’t always work because with picture books or comics/graphic novels with minimal text only offers so much of the supplementary material needed to do a film or tv show version justice.

With novels it’s the opposite problem, there’s so much more (NECESSARY) supplementary material that reads fast and tight in the book (even if it’s a 200+ page opus) would take 4 or MORE hours to film for theaters or straight to television, though at least with the latter you can usually find clever ways of getting more of the source material in via the episodic format. Feature films have more limits on length from my understanding so there’s a lot left out or added because it makes better visual sense, the iffy Star Trek examples given above aside…(science versus Special Effects is a WHOLE different thing)

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Jami Gold December 12, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Hi Taurean,

Yes, that’s a great way to put it. We have to do a good enough job establishing the story world so readers are able to better suspend their disbelief for the remainder. And as you noted, that balance between not enough and too much is never easy.

Thanks for sharing your examples! Yes, as you said, I think that balance we want is really about being intrigued and not confused. Unfortunately, that line may lie in different places for different readers. Sometimes, when I get feedback that I think they should have gotten (because the information is there), I’ll look to make sure the explanation is clear enough. Other times, I’ll emphasize the explanation a bit more, maybe another phrase or sentence.

I’m happy to make those kinds of changes, but it’s crazy-making when beta readers give feedback saying they want to know the answer to a story question, and I’m like, “It’s a story question. Let me show you the answer through the story and not just tell you the answer right now.” LOL!

And yes, I agree that the medium does affect the message. That’s a great example about book-to-movie adaptations too. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Laura December 23, 2014 at 12:43 pm

But how do you react when they complain that things aren’t explained or made clear, etc, when you have specifically stated it, word for word, in the text? I had a lot of things in my first draft that I kept as subtext. My first beta reader only found one thing confusing, so I made it more clear. My second beta reader found almost everything confusing. I added new, not-quite-omniscient characters who add comic commentary and explain things. Despite that, the most recent critique I got still said that they didn’t understand things which were both stated in the text AND followed up by explanations from the peanut gallery. I have accepted that I have a small target audience, but really?? How much do I have to dumb down my book? And dumbing it down added 30k words and slowed the pace significantly, though two other beta readers love the peanut gallery. 🙂

Also, I gave up trying to have a suspense plot through the series. I just explained that all at the beginning of the book – and yet, that last critique also said they didn’t understand that plot line, which is the thread that will follow through the entire series… sigh.

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Jami Gold December 23, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Hi Laura,

That’s a great question and one I’ve thought about doing a whole post about. 🙂 I’ve seen the advice for “Resist the Urge to Explain” (RUE) and “trust your reader,” but I’ve seen more evidence that the exceptions to that advice are many. Quite likely too many exceptions to consider those true guidelines anymore.

Personally, I’ve decided that goals and motivations need to be explicitly stated. They don’t work in subtext at all. And for POV characters, they’re allowed to hide from the other characters, but they’re not allowed to hide from the reader (unless they’re actually unaware or an unreliable narrator, etc.). In other words, the reader should know their innermost thoughts, vulnerabilities, longings, etc.

But yeah, it’s really tricky and that’s one line I really struggled with. One thing that helped me was writing a deeper POV so I had a better (and more consistent) sense of how they would think of the situation. I hope that helps! Thanks for the comment!

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Summerita December 12, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Hi Jami,
I always enjoy your insightful posts and this one is certainly a must read for authors especially those diverging from the contemporary genre like me for instance. I’m writing a romance taking place in the post Vedic period in ancient India and can relate to many of the issues you have raised. Since people spoke Sanskrit at that time, I found it difficult to find the tone of their conversation in English. However my beta reader friends helped out a lot. Phrases like ‘plant one on the nose’ had to go 🙂 I also toned down the heroine’s tendency to call the hero by his first name and provide an explanation if she did as a friend pointed formality existing in those days. However I have taken certain liberties with customs as I wanted to make my characters more than just puppets of convention. Let’s see if that works. Will know when it is released 🙂 Thanks again for the post. It certainly helps to have a check list!

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Jami Gold December 12, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Hi Summerita,

Ooo, great example! A friend of mine is writing a medieval story, and that’s the same situation with trying to find a balance between the real language and the language that works for readers. As you discovered, the issue comes down to word choice, turns of phrase/cliches, syntax, formality, etc. Good luck and thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Tahlia Newland December 12, 2014 at 9:55 pm

Believability is a very subjective thing though. What one believes another won’t, and how believable something is can also change. Being too timid with our stories is probably as bad as being too extreme.

My latest book is a metaphysical thriller about a reviewer being hounded by a disgruntled author. I thought my original idea was a little too outlandish, so I made it more believable. Then, about a month before publication, I read about that author who physically attacked a reviewer. That made the previously unbelievable believable, so I rewrote the ending using my original idea. The interesting thing is that the book is much better with the more outlandish ending, and I realised that I should have written it that way anyway and not worried whether people would think it believable or not. But I’m not saying to ignore Jami’s good advice; no, I agree with her totally – I hate unbelievable plots and character interactions.

My challenge was to write it in such a way that it was believable for this character at this point in time. So far no one has suggested that it’s not, but I wonder if they might have had it been published a few years ago.

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Jami Gold December 12, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Hi Tahlia,

Absolutely! I just mentioned in another comment that everyone’s line of intrigue vs. confusion is different, and the same goes for believability. We all have had different experiences, so that makes what we think of as realistic a bit different too.

I think the best we can do is try our best for a good balance, explain where it would help, and remember that no book is going to appeal to all readers. (I think I mentioned in the post that some readers don’t like fantastical stories at all!) As you said, a lot comes down to establishing this character and this story world, and “selling” the reader on what will make sense for those specifics. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung December 13, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Lol! Of course story writing is no easy task! Otherwise it wouldn’t be as fun! I realize more and more nowadays that art isn’t fun if it’s too easy, haha.

(I’m really sorry Jami that this comment is going to be quite long too…Because there’s too much I want to say about this topic! :O)


Furthermore, within each of the genres, there’s variety based on tone, mood, setting, etc. A spy thriller could be based in U.S. Revolutionary War days and be light but serious, or a spy thriller could be based in contemporary Japan and be dark but funny. Each of those variations will change the suspension of disbelief necessary, as well as the line for plausible and believable.

Hmm could you elaborate on what you mean by a story feeling unbelievable if it has the “wrong/ unexpected” tone?

Also, readers might think something is unbelievable because it doesn’t match genre expectations? :O Isn’t that about violating expectations, rather than about believability?

Coincidences: Lol, but what if a character remarks that there are too many coincidences that it’s ridiculous? And maybe some other characters think there are too many coincidences that it’s so uncanny as well? As in it’s a lamp shading? 😀 Lol. I imagine that this might be acceptable in a comedy or in a funny/ unserious moment that is SUPPOSED to be absurd in some way. But I don’t know about more serious scenes?

LOL that lots of coincidences to screw up the character’s life are acceptable. XD. Oh but I read a pretty famous novel that had sooo many coincidences that killed off every single character related to the protagonist except for the protagonist himself. I.e. his wife, daughter, son in law,and grandson ALL died thanks to many coincidences.

So it was not only tragic. It was just so ABSURD that EVERY SINGLE person close to the protagonist died, at least some due to amazingly bad luck. Don’t remember how his wife and son in law died, but his daughter died during childbirth, and his grandson died because he volunteered to donate blood and the blood donation system was “not very advanced” and so they took out too much of his blood and killed him. O_O. Both of these incidents happen very rarely, but BOTH mother and son had to die of such very low chance causes??

And I just felt it was so unbelievable that EVERY PERSON close to the protagonist dies; it was like the author was determined to kill off everyone so that the protagonist would be all alone and the story would be as tragic as possible. O_O

Oh yes definitely saw illogical events being unbelievable examples before, e.g. a character in this literary classic, just before she was going to live happily ever after with the man she loves, takes too many sleeping pills (her doctor told her what dose would be excessive already!) because “she just couldn’t sleep” and dies! (A too stupid to live thing?) And so it ends up as a tragedy!!! And for another literary classic that was actually one of my favorites, a flood just came out of nowhere and killed off the heroine and her brother—JUST when problems were all solved and the heroine was forgiven for everything. Again, I think the author simply did that to MAKE it a tragedy! A forced tragedy just to make the readers cry!

But I’ve definitely heard of forced happy endings before too, e.g. for this guy who never liked (romantically) this girl who was in love with him, he took care of her during her illness and “from sympathy grew romantic love” for her. O_o. Well I guess it’s not impossible to fall in love with someone that you were never interested in before just by caring for them in their sickness, and developing romantic love for them through your great sympathy for them, but.. It didn’t feel very convincing, haha.

Nevertheless, I do admit that I’d RATHER have an unbelievable happy ending, than to have a convincing tragic ending, haha. So you see unbelievable isn’t always that devastating to a book.

Similarly, readers who made the above sleeping pills and flooding books literary classics, certainly didn’t think those very unbelievable parts are damaging enough to knock the books off the timeless classics shelf, lol. So lack of believability may not ALWAYS be a fatal blow, thankfully, though we should definitely still avoid them in our own stories whenever possible.

That book with people ridiculously all dying didn’t prevent my teacher from recommending it to me either; many other people recommend it too, so I guess the book had some “redeeming qualities”, haha. I did enjoy reading it, though it was just waaay too sad for my taste, lol.

Too convoluted? Interesting, I’ve never heard of that one before. But do the readers find it unbelievable because it’s too complicated for them to understand, or because they don’t see how it can all be resolved in the end? Or both? Either way, I don’t think I’d personally feel that it’s unconvincing, though; but maybe that’s because I haven’t read such an example of this thing (except maybe A Song of Ice and Fire, haha. Or maybe the Dresden Files, because soooo much is going on in both. But then I don’t think they’re unbelievable; I just think I don’t know when the story can ever end, because there’s just TOO MUCH to resolve!! They’re still enjoyable to read, though, so I don’t really care, lol.)

Not enough conflict or tension:
Lol I actually see the opposite a lot, where there’s TOO MUCH conflict or tension that it feels unrealistic to me. 😀 Life is hard, but THAT amount of stuff going berserk or wrong, is a bit ridiculous. Life is rarely THAT absurdly hard, at least for most people. I’ve definitely read some books where the protagonist is hindered by an unbelievable number of obstacles and misfortunes; he is so ridiculously unfortunate, that it’s not just sad, it’s over the top!

Ok maybe the above wasn’t quite about conflict/ tension, but I’ve read another book where this couple could have gotten together a lot sooner, but because of a lot of unnecessary conflicts and unexpected problems, it takes them about 900 pages to finally get together, sigh. So it also feels unbelievable because it sounds like their life is much harder than a “realistic” life would be.

Ah I’ve seen the opposite problem to the too perfect character as well. I’ve seen the too flawed character! You know those characters who are ridiculously bad/ weak/ deficient in soooo many ways, you just go, “Really??” It sounds like the author was too excessively afraid of the “perfect character” or “Mary Sue/ Gary Stu” label, that they deliberately wrote about an unbelievably messed up character. :O. SOO messed up and bad that they feel “made up” rather than “real”.

Mary Sues and Gary Stus are great for some comedies/ farces/ satires, though, lol, just because they are so ridiculous.

Oh yes I’m very paranoid about explaining any character actions or dialogue that seem out of character or don’t make sense. D:

About consistency of niceness (or other kind of personality trait), I actually find it MORE realistic if they act DIFFERENTLY in different situations (only if it looks reasonable, of course.) In contrast, I’ve seen characters who are ALWAYS this personality trait in ALL situations, and that actually makes them feel unrealistic because I think most “real” people behave differently in different situations–people adapt to their different situations.

Now I’m not saying a character should be completely different in all situations, because we can act similarly in multiple occasions too. Also, some people are more consistent than others in that they treat many different people in their lives in approximately the same way. The important point is that their variation according to the situation feels logical, but what feels logical may be subjective. D:

For instance, I think that someone who acts more emotionally and sentimentally sometimes but more calmly and rationally, analytically some other times, makes sense, because I myself am like that. But I understand that not everybody believes that you can vary so much, lol. Maybe I just have a weird personality…

Similarly, some people are sometimes one of the most talkative people in a group, but sometimes these same people are one of the quietest, even in the same group! I know this is possible too, because I have both been one of these people, AND seen some people behave like this, haha.

But yeah the reader would benefit from an explanation, e.g. she wasn’t very interested in this topic, so she wasn’t as talkative as usual. HOWEVER, sometimes I wonder if we need an explanation, because at times I think I put in too many explanations, lol.

At other times, I feel the reader could just figure it out themselves, even if it’s not immediately obvious, I’m sure they’ll get it soon! Haha. (But woe betide me if I guessed wrong!)

And some other times, I feel the reader would just have to accept that my character is like this sometimes but like that some other times, or that he’s like this during X occasions and like that during Y occasions. Lol.

But all in all, it’s all about finding a balance in how much explanation you should give. How much would be too cumbersome and “on the nose”, and how little would be confusing or risk the reader thinking you’re being inconsistent or illogical? It’s all according to your judgment! Beta readers can definitely help with this judgment, but again, different people have different beliefs about how people work.

E.g. I know a woman who doesn’t believe that a male character can be so emotional, sentimental, gentle, soft, caring, and loving, etc. Well I personally know such very emotional, sentimental, soft, loving, etc. men, so I would find them believable, haha.

E.g. 2. Another woman I know doesn’t believe that a woman in ancient China can be so physically and verbally proactive in romances, so heroines from ancient China who initiate kissing, confess their love to guys, propose to guys, etc. wouldn’t be realistic to her. I have never lived in ancient China before, but I believe you can find any sort of personality in any demographic and any time period; it’s just a matter of how many or how few of these people there are in each different society. So this is again an issue of what your beliefs about personality are.

About ancient China, I recently read a story set in that time about a girl who was VERY proactive in pursuing the main hero, haha. I was astonished, but I didn’t find her unrealistic, because I believed that any personality can exist in either gender in any time period, lol.

Speaking of, some people have beliefs about what personalities people of certain races/ ethnicities have, so a character of race X acting in a way very different from their racial stereotype would seem unrealistic to those people. :O Yet in my own real world experience, I see many many different personalities within each ethnic group, DESPITE those ill-informed racial stereotypes, haha. Real people are MUCH more diverse than that!

Hmm but you say that if a reason isn’t given for inconsistent traits, the character may feel too CONVOLUTED and therefore unbelievable? Interesting. Could the issue be that the reader feels like they can’t get a clear grasp of how this character is like? Sometimes I think that real people are too complicated, so that readers prefer to read about characters who are a more simplified version of real people? LOL.

Maybe because it seems like the character “changes personality” so often that the readers don’t really understand what kind of person they are? Because there is too much variety in behavior, that there doesn’t seem to be some internal logic under their various behaviors?

Yet again, different people have different acceptances of variability. My psych prof told us about an ex girlfriend, who was upset that he was talking in a more opinionated, “unrefined/ boisterous” way to a bus driver when they were talking about sports, because my prof had always been talking in a very educated, refined, cultured way. And my prof went, “But everyone has different sides!” And his girlfriend said, “You mean you’re a chameleon!” She couldn’t believe that he had such a very radically different side!

Similar to this, a woman I know believes that people act consistently towards different people, and that she definitely is consistent in different social settings, so she assumed that the way I interact with her, is the way I interact with everyone else! No, not at all! I’m somewhat different towards everyone. :D. In fact, I think it’s unnatural and maybe physically impossible for at least most of us to be literally consistent…I mean, how scary is that to be warm and friendly ALL the time…

To give story character examples, I have a friend who wrote a dialogue with a cast of characters, and she was so careful to make sure the voices all sounded distinct and she was so clear on what character had what specific personality. That was good that she was clear on that, however, because she was SO clear, it was like her characters were locked in one specific mode of personality. For me, as I said, real people change according to different situations, but her characters are way too stable, so they didn’t feel that “real/ believable” to me.

Yay long comment finally over! =D

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Jami Gold December 15, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Hi Serena,

True! And if it was easy, everyone would do it and writing would be even less valued. :/

Hmm, a tone could seem unbelievable if it changes midway in a jarring, take-the-reader-out-of-the-story way. But what I meant is that some tones or moods are more accepting of farce or ridiculous situations than others. For example, a situation that’s seen as too convenient in a straight romance might be acceptable in a romantic comedy, where silly pratfalls are the norm for a “meet cute.”

In some genres, those differences in tone will merit a separate subgenre, and we could just as easily speak of violations of genre expectations. But other genres don’t separate into subgenres as much, so their tone or mood is just their tone or mood. That’s why I wanted to point out that it wasn’t just a genre thing.

Good point about lampshades and coincidences. 🙂 I’ve seen coincidences in serious stories handled by pointed them out and ascribing behind-the-scenes players, usually nefarious, to the oddities.

For example, I finally got to see Mockingjay this past weekend, and near the end, they hang a lampshade on the fact that that the Capital let the team escape with Peeta and the other victors. They leave that open as a question of “why would the Capital do that?” Cut to the scene with Katniss seeing the rescued Peeta for the first time and her, uh, breathing problem. 😉

Good point too that too many negative consequences can seem ridiculous as well. You’re probably too young to remember Northern Exposure, but that show made a joke out of killing the girlfriends of one character in crazy ways. One was killed by a falling satellite. O.o

Ugh! I hate forced tragedies. That’s bad writing on top of sadness I don’t need. LOL! For the unbelievable happy example, it sounds to me more like the author didn’t do enough to “sell” the characters’ love for each other than force nonsense. 😉

For too convoluted, that goes along with the sense of ridiculous and coincidental, so this is probably a subjective thing. Some authors could make it work just because they’re so in control of their story that everything flows and makes sense. But too many times, a convoluted plot stops making sense or needs a deus ex machina to get them out of the corner. (Think of many James Bond or Mission Impossible movies. 😉 )

Ooo! Good point about a too-flawed character. I read a story a while back where the character was so flawed it was unbelievable that they’d have anyone hanging around with them. LOL!

As to your example of a talkative person being un-talkative, true, but there’d usually be a reason for that. Maybe they’re tired, just chilling, uncomfortable, upset, thinking about something else, etc. The point is that there would be reasons. Even if they’re not the POV character, the POV character might notice “Huh, Tim’s in one of his quiet moods tonight. I hope he’s okay.” (Which we might want to do if the reason was important to the story, but we don’t have to give the reason in every circumstance.)

As long as we, the author, know the reason, we can make sure they follow an internal logic. Because, yes, we want to make sure readers have a good grasp of their character or they’ll zig for seemingly no reason when readers expect them to zag.

But as you said, no matter what we do, some people won’t find things believable because of their preconceived notions or experiences. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung December 15, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Wow people don’t value writing? O_O. I thought writers get a lot of respect, haha, or maybe it’s just the people I happened to talk to…

LOL her breathing problem! I didn’t realize that was a lampshade, but it was indeed, and it worked well. 😀

Oh good, I write romantic comedy, so ridiculous things (silly stuff) are more acceptable in my genre, lol. But then if you don’t see anything ridiculous, then it’s not funny (not comical), right? Haha

Killed by a falling satellite… :O Omg that was a comedy/ farce, right? Though I don’t think killing off so many girls in ridiculous ways is “funny”…

For the forced happy ending one, thankfully there was another romance in this story between two minor characters which was very nice and more convincing. It was one of those haters to lovers stories, very cute and very sweet. ^^ The relationship between an already married couple in this same story was pretty touching too.

I didn’t like the romance with the protagonist in that story, though, because it was a sad love triangle between the hero and two girls (who are sisters). One of the sisters dies in the end, but her funeral was the last scene in the book. So it wasn’t QUITE a happy ending story…Just happy for some characters but not for others. :O

Oh man I hope my plots are not too convoluted (maybe they are, lol), and if they are, hopefully it all flows and makes sense to the reader! *Covers eyes; can’t bear to watch* LOL!

This is a danger with being a pure blooded pantser. I might actually have to delete entire subplots. T_T Hopefully not, though, since many if not all subplots develop some of the secondary characters very well. On the other hand, a lot of my plots are unrelated to one another (e.g. X’s love story is completely unrelated to A’s friendship story), so maybe it isn’t THAT convoluted. Also, I think we’ve talked about this before, but not ALL subplots need to be resolved within the story (the book) or even have a happy ending.

Some of the problems appearing in subplots never get solved at all, and that’s sad, but too bad, I’m sorry. 🙁 For instance, this guy loves this girl but she will never see him as more than a friend; I’m sorry, but really, she’ll never fall for him. So I guess that is sort of tragic, but I think it’s more sad than tragic, because it’s not THAT bad. At least they are still alive and well at the end of the story, and though he never gets her love, she never becomes partners with anyone else either, and she does have a close FRIENDSHIP relationship with him.

Some people, after being rejected by their friend who is also their crush, feel that it’s too painful to see this friend-crush anymore, and so it’s hurt on both sides (at least until the unrequited lover falls in love with and gets together with someone who DOES reciprocate). But for some other people, they would rather stay good friends with their crush than to have nothing at all; and, as a friend of mine says, why do we think friendship is inferior to romantic love? Friendship can be just as wonderful as romantic love! That was such a tangent…but anyway, yeah, that unresolved subplot is sad, but not tragic, for the above reasons.

Back to the topic of convoluted plots: So, I can deal with a lot of the plots because they are unrelated to other plots, and some subplots don’t even have a resolution, are sad, or are probably resolved in the SEQUEL series, lol. It’s the adventure plot that would need most of my attention. There are a few plots that will come together to solve the adventure plot, but I’m quite confident it will work out too! 😀 Have faith in your muse. lol

Just a stray thought: actually, if ALL my plots, subplots and main plots had happy endings, it might actually feel unrealistic and unbelievable (or even cheesy), because in “real life”, some problems are solved and some aren’t, unfortunately. So yay I found an excuse not to resolve some of my plots? lol. A lot of COMEDIES, even, have some characters who have sad endings. 🙁


I read a story a while back where the character was so flawed it was unbelievable that they’d have anyone hanging around with them. LOL!

Yikes! Yeah. :O

Indeed. I will continue to be paranoid about explaining all seemingly out of character or “strange” behaviors, lol, in the effort to parry off as many reader accusations of “this doesn’t make sense/ they’re inconsistent!” as possible, lol.

BTW, I was talking with a friend about how some characters do extremely terrible things for a reason that seems insufficient to justify their actions. At first I was worried that the reader would find these characters unbelievable, but then I remembered the reports on the news and famous scary cases (e.g. religious cults that convince members to commit mass suicide) and some people on the news do even more terrible things than my characters did, also for reasons that shouldn’t have been strong enough to motivate such nasty deeds. (At least to most of us, these reasons shouldn’t have been enough.)

Then another friend suggested that the people on the news are mentally ill (the extreme type, not the more ordinary type of mental illness). So maybe my characters who did those extreme things for an insufficient (to us) reason, might have had such mental illnesses as well, such that “normal” people can’t understand their logic so they would seem unbelievable, even though these kinds of “illogical” people actually exist even in the “real world”.

This also led to a discussion of whether “normal” people would ever be motivated to do such extreme behaviors with insufficient reasons too. We talked about the instability of so-called normal minds, lol, and the question of whether normality even exists, haha. People can be brainwashed into terrorism or other unbelievably crazy acts (and remember what happened to Peeta, with his fear conditioning), so I wouldn’t be so confident that “normal” people would be that protected against such stuff! (My friend’s very into forensic psychology, so she really likes this topic, haha.)

But yeah, our readers’ personal beliefs and preconceived notions of how people work make it all very subjective.

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Jami Gold December 15, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Hi Serena.

Many people respect writers, but the same people who think nothing of spending $3.99 for a birthday card they’re just going to shove into an envelope balk at spending that much for a book that will give them hours of enjoyment. 🙁

Yes, Northern Exposure was a wacky kind of comedy. Otherwise, you’re right that killing people off wouldn’t be funny. 🙂

It’s funny that you mention the danger of being a pantser. Plotters can come up with great ideas in the outline, but there’s still the question of whether they can sell the story and make it flow. So there are risks on both sides.

Ha! Many romance series are built on giving that jilted lover or victim of unrequited love a happy ending in the next book. 😉 So there are always ways to dig ourselves out of corner. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung December 16, 2014 at 11:10 am

Lol, unfortunately, for that guy and some other unrequited lovers in my story, they’ll never get a happy ending (at least not romance wise.) 🙁 I’m not fond of tragedies, but I guess I’m okay if it’s just somewhat sad but not crushingly sad, and as long as the PROTAGONISTS get a happily ever after, I’m fine, haha!

Oh that’s true. Actually despite what I just said, I think I would be better at tying things up and making them flow with pantsing, but not with plotting. I mean, I can’t even plot anyway! Haha.

True too that many people respect writers but not many are willing to buy books. And even fewer are willing to READ books, and even fewer are willing to FINISH those books they start reading! :O Nevertheless, we’ll think about the people who ARE willing to read and finish our work; can’t let anything discourage us!

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Jami Gold December 16, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Hi Serena,

Yep, and that’s why I know pantsing is for me. When I plot, everything turns out too forced–not good. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Denise D. Young December 15, 2014 at 10:51 am

This was a wonderful, helpful post, Jami. You actually helped me solve a problem I’ve been having in a current story. Specifically, your point about forcing Too Stupid To Live (TSTL) actions. I couldn’t figure out why a character would stay in a place (another world) that posed a threat to her if she had the option to go home. Then I realized that I had to take that option off the table, and I had the perfect way to do that without breaking the rules of the world. Thank you!

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Jami Gold December 15, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Hi Denise,

Great insights! Yes, beta readers, critique partners, or developmental editors are essential for finding those “Why couldn’t they just do…?” problems. 🙂

As you said, we have to take that option off the table in some way. We could make the stakes (consequences) too high if they don’t follow through, or we could make the option impossible, etc., etc. And great point about how whatever we do has to make sense for the story and the story world. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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