1. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Handling improbability

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by peachalulu, Sep 17, 2014.

    Is it just me or have audiences/ readers gotten more nitpicky about believability? I picked up a library book the other day called Cinnamon and Gunpowder a rather extraordinary adventure/romance? story about a female pirate who takes a chef hostage back in the 1800s. Comments on Amazon said that is was improbable and chef's were rare back then but they liked it. I thought the idea of fiction was to suspend disbelief but lately it seems as if readers want to find flaws and errors in accuracy.

    I'm not the best when it comes to research so much so, that my story Moonshot ( I posted a longer clip on a different site ) had a glaring error exposed ( a few actually. ) There is no dark side of the moon. Thank you Pink Floyd. Given that it's an essential part of my story, a metaphor etc. I now have to recreate what is real in such an accurate way that it will appease my audience. I don't mind the challenge. But I sometimes wonder if The Wizard of Oz would ever pass muster nowadays because everyone would complain that Dorothy and Toto and the house wouldn't have survived the twister. :rolleyes:

    Do you worry about believability? How do you handle your improbable moments?
     
  2. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Make it a comedy. Doh.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I can't say I worry but I have changed things when the critics in my group found some things not credible. But other things I stood by since they didn't know the rest of the story and I had faith in my ideas. So far, I've been unsuccessful teasing out underlying elements that make one fictional event just fine while readers (including me) balk at another one.

    It may come down to individual reaction, maybe there aren't themes that apply more broadly.
     
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  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Willing Suspension of Disbelief. You have to make the audience WANT to believe you, and you have to make belief as easy for them as possible.

    They'll want to believe if they're caught up in the story, enjoying the writing, etc.

    And it'll be easier for them to believe if the 'lie' follows conventions of the medium, like when non-English speaking characters in a movie still speak English, but with an accent of their 'actual' language or when cartoonists draw animals wearing clothes and driving cars. I think beyond that, it's good to keep improbabilities to a minimum. Where it's impossible to avoid, I think it can sometimes be dealt with by actually addressing it. "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine," or "I was starting to feel like I was cursed," or whatever.
     
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  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    This is a good point and could make for a clever discussion. How far away from convention in a genre can you actually go before you loose your audience? Mmm. Would make an interesting writing experiment.
     
  6. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just curious, if you don't mind my asking. What is the problem. There is a dark side, or far side of the moon, from Earth's vantage point.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    My biggest issue is when people say that certain characters aren't realistic (i.e., the character handled a situation "unrealistically"). Readers need to keep in mind that all writers draw from experience, so when a reader says that a character isn't realistic enough, it says more about the reader's ignorance than the writer's.
     
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  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    In the story Guylan & Cary are condemned to work shifts on the dark side of the moon. ( a.k.a the Far side. ) In the story they have to live in nearabouts darkness which speeds up the disease. Prior to writing the first bit of Moonshot I'd read nothing on the moon but since my critiques I've read a few things. There is no technical dark side of the moon, as it spins eventually all sides will face the sun. I'm not quite sure how it can only show one face to the earth and yet all sides to the sun but that's what it does.

    Fortunately I've found a way to fix it and still keep my dark side of moon. Thank goodness for imagination.
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, this can be tricky. I've read certain wip romances and sometimes you feel yourself injecting your ideals into how you want the character to be rather than how the writer is presenting it.
     
  10. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Guylan and Cary. Love those names!

    So god damned tired of Aiden.
     
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  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know if that's always true.

    If an author establishes a character as being physically weak and clumsy, and then has that character somehow beat up a martial arts master, I think that's an unrealistic character. Less dramatically, if a character is presented as being rational and strong but then falls apart at a crucial moment, barring some sort of explanation, I'd say that's unrealistic. Or if a character is too perfect (MarySue/MartyStu)... I think calling the character unrealistic fits.

    I'm sure there are times when readers are too critical or don't fully understand a character, but I think it's also totally possible for an author to write a character that doesn't really stick together.
     
  12. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I wonder if what they really mean is that the character isn't behaving in a way you (the author) have led them to believe he will, in the same way an actor might ask a director, "What's my motivation?", shorthand for, "Why would my character say that or behave that way?".
     
  13. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Sometimes progression is the key - kinda like the Karate Kid. Or that moment - like George McFly when he punches Biff in Back to the Future. Don't know where the 80's references are coming from.

    I get your drift though. I mainly get tripped up by the little things - word choices when I critique.

    I've read romances where certain words have turned the mc from a young woman into sounding more like a teenager. This would work if it was deliberate but looking at the overall picture I can tell it isn't.
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is no way of pleasing everyone, and even if there were, some people thrive on being displeased. Having said that, in my experience, grappling with details usually betrays a larger issue the reader had with the narrative. Maybe the prose wasn't up to scratch? Maybe the characterisation wasn't quite convincing? Are there any genuinely gushing reviews, where readers were clearly smitten with the prose, or are the positive reviews mostly cerebral? All this can be a clue.

    Generally speaking, I wonder if readers of some genres, like thriller, crime, historical, sci fi, might be sticklers for details, while readers of, say, fantasy, magic realism and even romance, might be less interested in the accuracy and more in the metaphor. In any case, at some point you just have to let go of what audience wants and write stories you want to read.
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2014
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  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I totally agree with the idea of some readers of certain genres being sticklers for details - I'd even throw romance into your line up. However I have to admit more woman will probably gush over a crappy unbelievable romance vs a sci-fi nut over a crappy unbelievable sci-fi story.
     
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  16. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Look at it this way. You get to create a "dark side" of the moon. It's up to you to make it become real to readers, somehow. Isn't that part of the beauty of writing?

    Imagine if everyone suspended their disbelief just like that? Might as well strap ourselves to an IMAX and watch CGI all day.
     
  17. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    The moon is "tide locked" with earth. It rotates in a synchronized orbit around the earth. It is rotating, but it's doing so in a way that keeps one side to us all the time (there is actually a variance of about 1.5 inches a year).

    This video explains it
     
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  18. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Jack beat me to it. :)

    I'll just add something the video is less clear on, the center of rotation is within but not the center of the Earth. It's not just that the Moon is rotating at a matched speed, it does that the way two kids holding both hands out together would rotate.

    Skip ahead to 0:33 and turn the sound off if it bothers you. It was the first video I found demonstrating what I wanted to show:



    Sheesh, I can't believe it's that hard to find a simple video showing the center point of the Earth-Moon tidal lock.
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2014
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  19. Storysmith
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    I must admit, a permanent dark side of the Moon is something that would annoy me. It's not improbable; it's simply incorrect. I don't think I'd have a problem with a pirate kidnapping a chef. Fiction shouldn't limit itself to the probable. I also wouldn't have a problem with an alien planet which had a moon with a side which was always in shadow, which could be a way for you to fix the issue in your story.

    I think it essentially comes down to an unwritten agreement between the author and the reader. If you want to include magic, dragons, super powers, etc. in your story, you certainly can. You can create your own world, or change the history of ours. But you also set expectations of the rules of your story, which you must stick to unless you make it clear that you're changing them. Dorothy is an ordinary person, who would be killed if swept up by an ordinary twister. A magical twister, however, doesn't follow the same rules, and even allows the author to change the rules in a way that's clear to the readers.

    If you created a story set around our Earth and Moon, you implicitly set the expectation that the Moon has no permanent dark side. You could certainly have a character pop a red pill to change that rule, but if you don't then readers have every right to expect you to stick to the implicit rules.
     
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  20. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    I think you've hit on a problem that is quite specific rather than the general idea that readers are simply being nitpicky. Social movements tend to pendulum - too far to one side and then over correcting. I think it's the over corrections that leave people, and hence readers, weary.

    Did you hear that Marvel comics is changing Thor's character to a woman? Regardless of where you personally come down on such an idea, to many it simply smacks of waaaaay too much PC culture. Forcing the equality of women down unwilling throats - and even those who are more than willing but don't think we have to lose beloved male characters to show strong female characters, is unpalatable.

    It doesn't matter if there were female pirates in the 1800's. It doesn't even matter if every single pirate from the 1800's was female. Your readers, unless they all were submersed in woman's studies classes for the last few years, don't know that, don't care about that and frankly (I believe) don't want to have to change their entire world view to accommodate what will be perceived by many, as a political statement or forced characterization.

    A race of elves living under the earth for the last 3000 years in a paradise? Sure I can suspend disbelief on that. A novel about a woman running successfully against F.D.R for the presidency during Depression era America...not so much.
     
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  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Most stories involve some degree of improbability. That's usually the source of the "Wow!" factor. But there are varying degrees of improbability, from husband arrives home early and overhears his wife talking amorously with another man on the phone, to arriving just in the nick of time to stop a murder to that same murder prevented by a fortuitous meteor strike. Beyond that, of course, are actual violations of physical laws, which are an impossibility ra4her than an improbability unless you can provide sufficient justification for that law to not apply.

    And yet, stories do indeed incorporate impossibility. The usual justification is magic, but then there must be consistent rules for the magic, established in advance.

    But sometimes you just goof up and don't have your fac4s straight. It will happen even if you are in the habit of researching everything you aren't absolutely certain about. Although if that is your habit, it won't happen as often.
     
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  22. Gloria Sythe
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    Gloria Sythe Member

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    After ten years of those so called action movies where Szwartzy hangs on to a Boeing 747's wings while it zigs & zags across the sky and watching Stallone jump 100 feet from a helicopter's rope ladder only to grab onto a shear cliff and dodge bullets as he hangs there, you want believability? Is Harry Potter realistic? People want good writing with moving action that culminates into a well thought out plot.
     
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  23. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    But it's so odd, I don't have a problem with Harry Potter or Rambo. Anything MacGyver does is cool. But when Dustin Hoffman found the monkey in "Outbreak" and that was going to end the epidemic, I balked. And I don't think it was just because I know too much about infectious disease. I doubt anything MacGyver does to get out of a tight spot would actually work.

    Nope, there's some as of yet unidentifiable element (to me) that makes the difference.
     
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  24. Jakv6
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    This is a recognised trope. It's called "Hang a lampshade on it." You can probably get away with this once or twice in any book, though if you use it too often it has a more comedic effect.

    Technically, anything is possible - but remember, they abandoned that experiment with the monkeys No Shakespeare, just plenty of broken typewriters and poop-flinging.

    J
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You do know the fallacy there, right? Without a process to select and keep combinations of letters that could be sections in a Shakespeare' play, you just keep getting random combinations.
     

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