Do any of you remember the Magic Eye books that were popular in the 90's - the 3D images that could only pop from the page if you crossed your eyes or put the book to your nose and then backed away slowly? My friend was cleaning our her closet the other day and gave me one of those books and I spent about an hour going page by page trying to find the hidden pictures. And guess what. It reminded me of writing. With the book held at just the right angle from my face my vision would relax and I was able to see the 3D image with no more effort than it takes to see the words on this screen. But if there was the slightest distraction, a quick blink or a ball being chucked at my face by a two year old, for example, I would lose the picture and have to work again to find it.
As writers we hope to open up an exciting world for the reader, allowing them to see things that they might not if they had not picked up our book. However, much like an eye blink took away my 3D image, a reader's journey in our literary world can be brought to an abrupt halt if we have weak points in our story -elements of plot or character that don't fit the way we (or the reader) would like.
Verisimilitude: the appearance or semblance of truth; likelihood; probability. There's a fun word I bet you'll never need to use, but its important to understand it just the same because it is exactly what you will need to keep your reader engaged. How many times have you been distracted from a would-be great story because you were too annoyed that the main character was so oblivious to the solution? Didn't you just want to slap him silly? The answer was so obvious (call the cops, man!) but for some unknown reason he failed to see the easy way out. Or maybe you questioned the plausibility of a scenario much the way I did when I saw Sam Witwicky get tossed around time and again by giant metal Decepticons, only to find him whole and well aside from a few minor cuts and bruises. If we're working to avoid similar expressions of outrage (or outright laughter at how ridiculous our story is) from the reader we want to focus on cultivating verisimilitude.
The following checklists are found on page 37 of "Write Your Novel in 30 Days".
- Does everything in the ideas/summary make sense?
- Are the characters motivated?
- Will the characters act as they are expected to? If not, did you set up why they won't?
- Is the story's world set up properly?
- Is it clear why the antagonist is doing what he is doing?
- Is it clear why the protagonist cares about the goal?
- Does the protagonist come into contact/conflict with the antagonist in a manner that is organic to the story?
- Do all the characters have a purpose, a reason for being there?
- Are all the setting props organic to the setting?
- Is the goal feasible?
- Will the readers suspend disbelief?
When creating literary worlds we are given only one boundary and that is consistency. If a man can fly in your story then the readers are going to want to know how he obtained this unique ability. Or perhaps his ability isn't all that unique; are all of humankind able to fly? If so, the reader will accept this as long as the information is presented as a normal reality in your world.
"Remember the reader will allow you to set the rules of your world as long as those rules remain consistent; no one likes the rules to change in the middle of the game" (WYNITD, pg 37).
- Have you set up and built all the major characters?
- Do you introduce the protagonist and antagonist in a way that makes a strong first impression on readers?
- Do you announce the story goal (or at least hint at it)?
- Does everything make sense to the readers?
- Do the main characters act "in character"? If not, why?
- Have you used any of your revealing scenes? If not, can you tweak a scene to add one?
- Are all actions motivated?
- Do the characters react to the turning point in a believable manner?
If you've gone through the checklist and you've found a few problems DON'T go back a rewrite. Simply note down what the problems are and if you have any quick ideas of how to fix them, then move on with your story. You can take care of these issues when you come back for your rewrite after the 30 days are over.
Did you find any issues with your WIP? What other questions might you add to the lists above?
MY DAY 10: I was so excited on day 10 because I noticed a sudden spike in visitor activity, most of it coming from an Elizabeth Spann Craig's site on Twitter. When I hoped over there I saw that she had retweeted my Day One and Day Two articles. (Thanks again, Elizabeth!) Because of the sudden boost in statistics I felt I needed to make my site look a bit more swanky, so I spent the ENTIRE day editing HTML and neglecting writing. (Anyone still wondering why I didn't manage to finish my book in 30 days?)