01 August, 2012

Plausibility: An IWSG Post

The Insecure Writer's Support Group is hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.

About the group (from Alex's blog):
It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic.

Recently, I've been trying to come up with ideas for a new novel (or novels). I've been racking my brain for subjects, but every time I think of something I like there are always the same dilemmas: I think the character motivation is unrealistic, the setting too fantastical, and/or the plot twists unbelievable.

Then the other half of my brain shakes me and says, "You're an SF/F writer! You're supposed to create things that are fantastical, for goodness' sake!"
   "No one's going to think my story about semi-human-part-alien people is realistic--" the other side replies.
   "So? Who's going to believe your story about revolution that you spent 1.5 years of your life on? Get some ideas together and write!"
   "I can't just connect plot points and characters willy-nilly or it will be a horrid mess."
   "You won't have anything to even question the plausibility of unless you go open that word processor, shut your mouth, and start writing."
   "I know. But having a concept beforehand does help. And even if I did start writing the story mentioned before, I don't even know if that character goal is consistent with the rest of the world."
   "Then make it consistent!"
   "Yeah, but then I would have to change all the other characters, which would mean more setting fixes, which would have a different influence on both the characters and plot, which would mean I'm back to the drawing board anyway, so why don't I just scrap the whole idea?"

Hence, my problem. It didn't used to get in the way (or I was better at shoving it aside) but now I keep wondering if my stories are plausible--realistic--enough.

How do you balance plausibility and imagination? What do consider the most when trying to estimate the chances that such a scenario could really happen: Characters, plot, setting? Or is this not something you worry about at all?

-----The Golden Eagle


Madeleine Maddocks said...

That sounds like the internal critic stifling creativity because if other well known successful authors had listened to theirs their own amazing blockbusters would not have gotten off the ground. (e.g. in a school there's going to be many students getting scrapes and bumps (bleeding) so a paper cut would be a regular occurence...need I say more? BTW I am a huge fan of this author and the series, but I would have told myself, 'nah everyone's gonna think that's crappy!' and given up)
The old addage just enjoy what you write and it will be all the better for it, seems to apply I think.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Best I can tell you is that if you make the characters real enough, ones people can relate to, then the story will fall into place and be plausible.

Christine Rains said...

I agree with Alex. Fantastic characterization will help out the rest of the plot. I do my best to stick to the rules of the world I create, but sometimes stories have their own minds. Also, at times, going over the top into the unbelievable can be a good thing!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

When you're writing fantasy, I think the motivation is the thing you have to be careful of. In scifi, of course, you need to use the laws of physics, but after that, let your imagination take you.

Melissa Bradley said...

Alex is right, if the characters, their thoughts, feelings, etc are relatable and realistic enough, everything else will fall into place. Plus, in world building, if you connect the dots in a realistic manner, it does not matter how fantastical. You've defined the parameters of the world and if everything behaves according to the logic you've set up, you will be fine. You can have mountains of diamonds, purple feathered dragons and fire-breathing people. It's your world, your rules.

E. Arroyo said...

I've never thought about this. I guess if the characters believe and the readers care about them you did your job. =) I'd follow 'em anywhere.

M.J. Fifield said...

Character. Character all the way. I agree with what Alex and Melissa said.

Liz said...

Oh yes, I do spend time wondering and worrying whether or not something seems plausible. But I'd say just write it. Let your beta readers tell you if it seems implausible.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

You need to silence your internal critic and just write. I think once you get back into the groove, the words will flow naturally.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I'm into imagination. If something needs to be tweaked in the second draft for plausibility, then fix it - don't change the plot for it, but tweak it. Characters matter most.

J. A. Bennett said...

I think it's amazing how far our suspension of disbelief will go. Alex is right, make the characters the focus and everything else will fall into place. If your character lives in that world and believes it, we will too!

mshatch said...

I happen to have this interesting questionaire for writers that can provoke some interesting answers to our novels. Some of it came from K.M Weiland's Crafting Unforgettable Characters, which you can download for free from her blog, Wordplay. It REALLY helped me a lot with my last novel (which I'm currently revising) and got me going on my next. You might find it helpful :)

I also think an alien/human race sounds quite plausible - and interesting! And I'll bet you can pull it off. Good luck!

Shelly said...

Just write whatever is going on your mind and then run it through your critique group. They'll bring you down to earth, I'm sure if need be.

Rusty Webb said...

I think having the characters be as believable as possible lends credibility to the story, no matter what the circumstances are.

When I was working on The Blutonian Death Egg, I asked someone, an expert, how we could get a space shuttle (well, the orbiter) to the moon. The guy berated me endlessly about the plausability of such a thing.

I told him it was desperate, the world would end if we didn't get the shuttle to the moon, we had two years to do it.

Again, he said it was too ridiculous. I asked him to think about unlimited budgets, huge teams of engineers. Outside the box thinking.

Nope, totally implausible.

So, he refused to help (After he offered) and I made up my own thing. I don't know of anyone else that has had much of a problem with it. Most folks have lost interest in that story WAY before they start talking about going to the moon.

Wait, this was supposed to be about you, wasn't it? Sorry. I can be a bit self-involved.

The characters, that's what matters.

Pat Hatt said...

I find that when the characters take on a life of their own, then you have it and all falls into place.

linda said...

I understand. I worry about this ALL THE TIME, and it's paralyzing. I mean, as a reader, I notice plot holes and implausible scenarios and especially PEOPLE GETTING BASIC SCIENCE/LOGIC WRONG which annoys me to no end. So I understand not wanting to make those same mistakes. But you also make a really great point about not having anything to fix if you don't write anything in the first place. So what I'm doing now is just that -- writing a lot of crap and worrying about working out the kinks later. I think it helps to start in outline/synopsis form, so instead of having to change pages and pages of text, you can just move some paragraphs around. Then once you have all the macro stuff mainly figured out, then you can figure out how to make the characters and writing and setting come alive with details. At least that's how I'm hoping to do it. :)

Krista McLaughlin said...

I agree with Alex - make sure the character is someone that the reader can connect to and feel something for, either sympathy, laughter, or hate. Fantasy/Sci-Fi can definitely go to many places! Make it seem real and the reader will feel it to be real. :)

Michael Pierce said...

Just start writing. it sounds like you have a good amount of ideas for your characters and world. You can adjust along the way, increase motivations, change outcomes, you can even change entire characters. But the writing will give you momentum and force you to answer the questions and problems as they arise. And you'll get even better ideas in the moment of the scene as you're writing. Your world, your oyster. :)

Anonymous said...

In whatever genre I read I want to connect to the characters, who are realistic no matter what world they live in, and I also want sufficient world building so that I can also fall into the setting. Even in fantasy and sci-fi, writers can make it all real for the reader.

Emily Rose said...

Oh it's so great to read your blog again!:)

I have this problem too, even though I don't write very much Science fiction. Still, even in a modern set fictional story I question "could this really happen...." I think it's something that crosses every writer's mind at some point(unless it's non-fiction, of course;))

PS. Your convo with yourself sounds exactly like the types of conversations I have with a friend of mine LOL:)

Corvus Press UK said...

I try to imagine the world, then how the impact of the environment would affect the characters, we are the sum of our experiences, our environment and those inherited factors. I try to make it work internally with the confines of the world. It is difficult at times. Great post.

Mark Noce said...

Amen, I know the feeling. This is what Critic Partners are for, and once you hear a dose of common sense from a few people it really helps you to make sure everything is on the right track:)

Charles Gramlich said...

I trust my unconscious to handle that. And I trust myself that I can fix any problems that remain in the final draft. too much thinking early on can be paralyzing. Get it down. And don't worry about the work involved in fixing it.

Cherie Reich said...

I'm with Alex on the characters. They will breach any plausibility issues if they seem real. But with fantasy and science fiction, readers often come at it knowing that this is a fantastical world. If you make it seem real and abide by its rules, then it'll be real to the reader.

Sangu Mandanna said...

Stories feel implausible when the characters are implausible. So if they're amazing and real, your plot will work, no matter how 'implausible' the twists seem.

That's not to say I'm not crippled by this fear every time I start writing, though!

Michael Di Gesu said...

I understand you frustration, Golden.

Stories will ALWAYS work and be plausible if there is heart and soul in the writing. Situations in life are basic. How the character reacts to these situations is where a writer needs to focus. Passion, goals, and survival will work in ANY world and with any creature.

Good luck figuring it out. You are the brightest young woman I know, you will find a way.

S. L. Hennessy said...

I generally feel that as long as it's a good story, I don't care if it's plausible or not :)

Emily R. King said...

Don't think too much about it. Let your characters voices be heard and everything else will fall into place.

Carol Kilgore said...

Stop worrying and write. You can fix it after you have something to fix.

Focus on the characters and make their motivation strong and believable.

My best two bits of advice.

Anonymous said...

Sci-fi/fantasy writers amaze me, because they have to create and establish these rules for their story world while also making them believable. The settings and their inhabitants, their behaviors, abilities, and technologies available to them have to be created in addition to the storyline. You have so much more to establish but I would assume that also gives you a vast array of possibilities that most fiction writers can't get away with.

I'm writing a very straightforward story about cancer, and trying to negotiate with the realm of plausibility makes my head spin. "Why can't the tumor lead to these symptoms instead of those?" "Why does it have this mortality rate instead of that?" And so on.

I'm not sure I could offer any helpful advice other than this: Trust your imagination and present the story with conviction. Unless it's completely unfathomable, your readers will buy in.

Best of luck with everything!

Cally Jackson said...

I struggle with this too. Sometimes the only way to beat it is to take that leap of faith. As they say, you can't edit a blank page. :-)

Annalise Green said...

I struggle with this A LOT. I wonder if it's a common problem for people who write speculative fic? It's derailed a lot of writing projects for me, and makes me doubt my current WIP like whoa.

If it helps, I've come to the conclusion that good writing can make almost any premise plausible. So I say, go for it! You never know until you try.

Ciara said...

It is so important for the actions in the story to remain within the limits of your world building. JK Rowling never went outside the rules of the magic in her world. That made the reader totally believe the impossible. IMHO.

The Golden Eagle said...

Madeleine: Good example. There are a lot of books that are based on premises I would have thought silly myself . . .

Alex: Thanks for the advice. I do find that strong characters can superseded other holes in the story when I'm reading.

Christine: Douglas Adams would be a good example of that. :)

Susan: True. SF does go far beyond the laws of physics.

Melissa: I suppose it's the realism/logic that I worry about. Since the whole premise is speculative, how does one tell when speculation ventures into the absurd?

And I can't help but think that purple feathered dragons and fire-breathers would make for an awesome Fantasy story . . . seriously. :)

E. Arroyo: Same here. Believable characters always make me want to stalk them beyond the end of the book. LOL.

M.J.: I'll have to heed the advice!

Liz: Currently don't have beta readers or critique partners, but you're right: should start writing.

Michael: Hopefully!

Tyrean: That seems to be the general opinion. I tend to put more weight on plot than character, but characters can definitely make or break a story.

J. A.: Reminds me of show, don't tell. Showing characters who live in a world is much more effective than telling someone about it.

Mshatch: I'll have to check that out!

Thank you. :)

Shelly: I don't actually have a critique group at the moment; I'll definitely find some other eyes to go over it if I try to publish anything, though.

Rusty: I don't mind. Your own story was a good illustration of the point that technical details can be less important than the people you're writing about.

Pat: I love characters that start dictating their own story, as it were.

Linda: Annoys me, too!

I think I'll try really plotting my next novel. My usual plotting method is a bit discombobulated: Write a few chapters then hammer out the main points while ignoring details.

Krista: It's only a question of how to do it effectively, I suppose . . . some writers have a gift for it.

Michael: I like the way you put that. :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Medeia: All about balance between character and setting, I guess (and plot, too).

Emily: It's great to see you blogging! :)

LOL. True--though truth is often stranger than fiction, of course!

That's funny. And awesome that you have someone to discuss stuff like that with; I'm usually stuck with my own brain. :P

Corvus Press UK: Great point. Experiences really make a person who they are; and those are created by their environment.

Thank you!

Mark: Thank goodness' for common sense. :)

Charles: Yeah . . . I just need to start writing now!

Cherie: It's the figuring out of the right rules that bogs me down, usually. But as so many of you have said, characters are good for smoothing over disparities.

Sangu: Glad to hear I'm not the only one.

Michael: Very true. All characters should respond to some element of the human condition.

Thank you. :)

S.L.: There are a lot of stories I enjoy because of that!

Emily: Voice is also an important factor! Hadn't been thinking much about that until now.

Carol: Thanks for the awesome advice. :)

Insomniac #4: I love exploring the possibilities, it's true. Playing with different universes can be a lot of fun.

Thank you!

Cally: LOL. Truth!

Annalise: Agreed. Good writing can make up for a lot of things . . . now I just have to make my own writing a lot better. :P

Ciara: I think so, too. The magic in the HP series was almost completely airtight.

Edith said...

I worry a lot about plausibility with SF because I have a lot of insecurity about the machines I'm inventing. My vote, however, is still with those who said the characters make it. If the characters are "done right" the reader will suspend a lot of disbelief. However, I don't think that principle extends to unlikely plot leaps. The reader who takes that without much comment has to have a stubborn affection for the story or the author.

Anonymous said...

What balance?
I was lucky enough to have a co-worker read through the first few chapters and gave mme an honest appraisal. yep, my main character is a total bitch, so, back to the start.

Lynda R Young said...

I also write scifi and have a tendancy to spend a LOT of time on plausibility. I try to explain things and that often helps with plotting too. The thing is, I've read plenty of stories that just don't bother explaining anything and yet they are successful. All you need is to fall in love with a concept and keep writing. You can MAKE anything plausible if you think hard enough about it.

laughingwolf said...

i did not read further than the definition, it's WRONG!

PLAUSIBILITY is NOT credible, if anything, it's CREDIBILITY...

i so hate it when even so-called authorities can't get it right....

DWei said...

Tim Scafer is a well-known game developer who has similar qualms when making a game. Except whenever he encounters an idea that's too outlandish, that's idea immediately finds a way into a game.

Apparently you don't regret those kinds of decisions, but you do regret leaving them out.

Deborah Walker said...

I agree with some of the other commentators, get the charcterisation right, and you can lead your characters through all sorts of strange and wonderful worlds.

Easier said than done! But we'll get there.

Talli Roland said...

Interesting question! I think it depends on what you're trying to show/ do in your novel. In some of mine, I *wanted* the scenarios to be deliberately OTT to mock the current reality of life/ media, etc. Also, your characters need to seem real within the framework of the story - it all needs to fit together.

Not sure I've answered the question, ha!

M Pax said...

I struggled with similar when I started. The only thing that cured it was writing. When I write I can make the connections. And when you start, especially with sf/f where the world is as much a character as a character, it's a learning process. You will erase and revise a lot. Heck, my first set of novels is still on the hard drive. So is the second.

I would buy humans who are part alien.

So, I say write, create a mess if you have to. You don't have to be perfect. You're learning. You can keep deleted chapters in files, so they're never really gone. This helped me get rid of things that aren't working. Eventually I just started deleting and not saving.

Hope that helps. Anyway, just write and write. It'll help you connect things.

Connie Keller said...

If the passion of the story is there for you and you believe in it (putting aside all doubts for the moment), then go for it. If you feel the energy and reality of the story, then your readers will too.

KarenG said...

I don't think of any of these things until I"ve already written the first draft, and then yes, I do. A lot.

The Golden Eagle said...

Edith: I agree. Plot, for me, is the most important factor of a story, and if it's weak my opinion of a book will usually go down even if other parts were strong.

Gene Pool Diva: Good that you have someone you can share your work with! It's always helpful to get a second opinion; writers can get wound up in their own stories.

Lynda: I've come across books like that as well. It can be frustrating, though, if an author doesn't fully explain something.

Laughingwolf: At first I wasn't exactly sure what you mean, but I think I got what you're saying: Being credible isn't the same as plausibility. Right?

DWei: I've never heard of Scafer, but I like that idea. Must be an interesting challenge for him!

Deborah: LOL. That's what I was thinking, too; easier said than done!

Talli: I like your take on that. Sometimes authors do warp the reality of their stories to contrast with real life.

I think you did. :)

M: My first novels are filed away, too.

Glad to hear it. I wasn't sure if that was an idea worth seriously considering . . . though it was more like a human adapted to an alien element, not a biological combination of the two. Sort of.

Thanks for the advice! :)

Connie: Guess I just have to make sure that I'm truly passionate about my story first, then!

Karen: Well, at least you've written your story, though!

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