Monday, March 28, 2016

The Suspension Bridge We All Must Cross: Why Fiction Needs to Be Truer Than Life

I recently one of my critique partners was having trouble with a story and I ended up giving her this piece of writing wisdom:

"The problem with fiction is it needs to be truer than life or people with think 'that's convenient!'"

The suspension of disbelief is an important aspect of any work of fiction. It is required by nearly every story told, seen, or read, except maybe those that like to break the fourth wall.


or are purposefully nonsens-icle, like rabbits with pancakes on their heads

This means, unlike life, we can't have coincidences or apparent coincidences show up on the page or we risk the reader seeing behind the curtain and realizing we are not wizards of words, but charlatans selling them deus ex machina snake oil with a side order of lazy writing. And if we do this, then we can't blame our readers if they decide to take out the pitchforks and roast our books with flaming hot reviews.


So, what can we do to encourage our readers to suspend their disbelief? First, everything on the page needs to be truer than life. There needs to be a cause and effect. There needs to be foreshadowing. If there is a reveal in the story or a twist, then the reader needs to have enough clues leading up to it that they have a chance to figure it out on their own.

If you have one character Kick Me another character, you can't just do it for fun or slap stick humor. There needs to be some reason for the act that the reader can see and understand. Nothing should come out of left field unless you've shown the reader left field and given them some kind of hint that they should pay attention to left field. Oh, look! There is the guy our main character kicked earlier... with a steamroller!!!


You might notice the kick doesn't have as much impact as the steamroller... this isn't just because the steamroller is bigger and squishier, but also because we have a context. One character was kicked by another and this sets up the motive for revenge... with a steamroller!!! Overkill, yes, but at least there is a setup that explains the action. There is reason to suspend our disbelief and accept that there is a possibility of someone running another person over with a steamroller.

We could set this scene up even better by mentioning the steamroller earlier in the story, having the character who gets kicked be the driver of the steamroller, or any number of other pieces of foreshadowing. The key is to make sure the reader can sense something coming. Even if they don't anticipate exactly what it is completely.

So, just remember, setup is an important aspect of helping your readers suspend their disbelief. So, don't forget it! Whether it's a steamroller or a shark. We need to see it coming... unlike this ninja...

Fighting Ninja

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Write (and Illustrate) What You Can Imagine!

Most writers have heard the old adage to "Write what you know."


It's a great piece of advice for writers, old and new. It reminds us that even though we are writing fiction, there is plenty of material in the real world we can draw from. We can use our experiences, relationships, and knowledge as a foundation to build our stories upon.

Personally, I know a lot about living in Detroit and its suburbs, in Texas, especially the DFW area, and even a little about Europe. I've visited a ton of different places as a kid and grown up. These are ready-made settings I can use whenever I want to.

I know what it's like to be an adopted child (my mother is my biological mom, while my father adopted me when he married her). I know how it feels to never know my biological father.  I know what it feels like to leave everything behind and go to a place I've never been before and build a new life.

Travel Trailer +  Suitcase + Crossed Fingers = Leap of faith!

I know what it means to return home after being gone for many years to find somethings the same and other completely changed. I know what it is like to deal with many things (both good and bad) because of my relationships with others.

I've learned a lot about various subjects through studying and living. I know what it's like to be a youth minister, a librarian, a writer, and much more through my work-experiences.

However, these aren't the only things I feel comfortable writing about. I love to read and write fantasy (and sometimes science fiction). This is where the old adage doesn't always go far enough. My imagination wants to write about more than just "what I know." It likes to ask "what if this or that." It strives to create something original and unique and I do, too.

This is why I want to expand upon the old adage. If I was to re-write it for me it would be:

"Write what you can imagine!"

Hearts flowers that bloom into hearts!

Dancing Broccoli dancing broccoli!

bunnies wearing pancakes!

All of these came not from writing (or illustrating) what their creators knew, but from imaging something new!

So don't be limited to writing (or illustrating) just what you know, but strive to stretch those brain cells to imagine something no one else has. Try to see the world around you not only through the lenses of your real-life experiences, but also through those what ifs that have never happened to you, might never happen to you. Go to the places you can only visit in your head and find those wondrous settings you need for you story. Go out and explore the uncharted places of your own mind and find something special only you can bring to life because only you have imagined it.

So, what have you imagined today?

Good Luck!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

We Interrupted This Blog for Snow, Gaming, and Anime

So, it's been a little bit longer than I anticipated between blog posts. I blame three things: snow (we're getting more today!?), gaming, and anime.

Shovel Snow

Yes, I'm playing the blame game, but hey, I needed to do something for a blog post and this was the first thing to pop into my head.

Distractions happen all the time in life. Some are out of our control, such as snow storms, sickness, etc. Others are caused by ourselves and our lack of discipline. We can't really do much in regards to the first category, but we can do a lot when it comes to our man-made distractions.


As I mentioned last week, not all distractions are bad. Sometimes our brains need them to recharge or give ourselves editorial distance. Gaming is great for this! Some distractions, like anime, can actually improve our writing by learning from what others do with their characters, plots, and dialogue. For example, yesterday I watched the second season of Noragami (Aragato). The script for this show elevated and deepened each character and was full of action and tension.

That being said, I didn't get any writing done yesterday because of how good the story was. I originally was going to watch an episode or two and then hop into my writing, but the story was so engrossing I couldn't stop binge-watching.

Oops! tv

So, even good distractions can become bad for our writing. Hopefully, the next time I decide to watch "one episode" before writing... I'll think twice about what that might actually result in: a day of writing lost. 

Of course, there is a way to use distractions to help our writing. Use them as rewards! Make those temptations work for us! So next time I get the itch to watch anime or play games before I write, I'll make a point to tell myself, "Not until you finish this chapter or write for X hours." That way, I can use those potential distractions as carrots that lead me to more writing and not less.

Carrot = more writing!

Anyway, here's hoping you have a productive day of writing yourself.