Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Writer's Wednesday: Realistic vs. Believable
This week, I'm revising an old manuscript. And I've been thinking about a piece of writing advice I heard some time ago at a conference (SCBWI Florida--the next conference is coming up next week!!!!): Your characters/their actions/dialogue/plot have to be BELIEVABLE but not necessarily REALISTIC.
I've heard this before, and it's usually emphasized when discussing dialogue. You know, the whole, "Real people talk with lots of ums and uhs and stops and starts. No one wants to read that." (Which is completely true, by the way. Great dialogue is believable without being truly realistic.)
But I've also run into this as an issue in my manuscripts as it relates to character actions/reactions. It seems there is a fine line between realistic behavior and believable behavior. Particularly when it relates to information the reader knows and the protagonist doesn't.
For example, in one of my old manuscripts (a paranormal), there is something strange going on. The protagonist doesn't like it/has a bad feeling, but REALISTICALLY, there is no reason for him to be truly alarmed. It's weird, but he has no reason to think that anything really bad is happening--until it gets really bad.
At least, that's how I want it to come across. But I've had readers question why he doesn't do something sooner. And the only reason I can think of for this is that they, as the reader, have read the description of the book. They KNOW something really bad is happening. So they want the protag to act sooner, and they have trouble BELIEVING that he wouldn't.
Anyway, I'm struggling with this line in my writing right now. Have you ever run into this problem? Have you ever read a book and had trouble with believability because the character was perhaps too realistic?