Making fiction believable

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I know it’s not real, as the clue is in the name, but there should be an element of realism in a book. I’m mainly talking about how the characters talk, respond to events and relate to each other. Here is the main list of things that annoy me that I’ve tried to either avoid or include.

1.Smells
I think it was one of David Edgings books I read as a boy when he mentioned how much men in armour stink. Until then I’ve not really thought about it. In some book characters will travel for months, sleeping rough without a hint of B.O. one can only assume it’s the Lynx effect.

2.Dialogue
There is one thing that really turns me off a book is unrealistic forms of speech. It tends to go two ways it’s either so stilted and formal even Jayne Aye would reject it. The other extremes are usually nobles from pre-industrial societies using ghetto slang. I do know from experience how hard it is to make your characters sound authentic, I think I’ve managed it with my main characters but some of the minor ones make me cringe, another job I’ve left for the next re-write.

3.Bodily functions
This might be because I work with kids but when you have scenes that go on for ages and no one eats, sleeps or relives themselves I do start to wonder….

4.Races, species and orientation
I’ve been a coward and only have one species in my book, humans. If you are going to have dwarfs, elves, orc etc. then like then please don’t make them all carbon copies with the same personality. Tolkien was the master at this with his dwarfs and elves all having very individual personalities. Even if you stick to humans try to vary it a bit. Not all heroes have to be chiseled, heterosexual, blond Adonis’s, they are a tad boring. Books with teenagers should have a few spots and a bit gangly and not just the poor sidekick!

I’m hoping I have avoided stereo types but I’m expecting to be blushing with embarrassment about a few of my minor characters.

5.Recovery time
I’ve read a lot about this recently, characters who recover from physical injuries in the turn of a page. But there are also physiological injuries, for example when somebody kills there first person and yet doesn’t particularly affect them despite them being quite sensitive. The one that happens a lot is they witness the death of a loved one, usually a relative that has brought them up instead of missing parents. You would have thought this would be fairly traumatic yet they are hardly mention it in the whole book.

Well there it is, I suspect I will have this quoted back at me when my book eventually comes out because I’m guess I gave fallen foul of at least one of these. What are the thing that ruin a book for you?

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33 thoughts on “Making fiction believable

  1. There are just two books I have given up on. Mallory’s ‘Mort d’Arthur’ because there were endless lists of names, as boring as who begat whom in the Bible; and James Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ which I found unintelligible.

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  2. These are all good points, time for another re-read of my current work thus far.
    Books I dislike are (A) Where the villain has a god-complex, talks for many paragraphs in a mix of quasi-religious and psycho-babble, and the ‘hero’ or victim is totally perplexed and falls under their spell instead of responding with a healthy dose of sarcasm. (OK if they are chained up that might not be a good tactic). (B) Some character who has an answer for everything, every time and never loses their sense of their perspective, which of course is the right one.(As an example thinking of the late, entertaining but nonetheless guilty of Tom Clancy)

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  3. I am guilty of rarely letting my characters relieve themselves within a scene. They will sleep, eat, and complain about the weather, but wander off to relieve a bit of pressure, well that simply will not do! I make them take their business off page. Considering I spend a good quarter of my time discussing my children’s bathroom habits (okay, so many it is a third) you would think more of it would enter into my work, but then again, I write as a form of escapism too.

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    1. I think as long as at some point the excuse themselves to go to the bathroom and occasionally eat your are ok.
      I may have gone too far the other way. Mine are always eating. I think my main character, wets himself twice and has a poo in front of other people twice and one on his own. I have another minor character who is a bed wetter and another who loses control during a fight scene. I would say they are all needed for the story but the count my go down in the edits, I don’t want people thinking I’ve got some sort of problem …

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  4. eric, kind sir, I know you are a busy person; we all are…I love this post and would really see how this applies to https://wordpress.com/posts/my/starshipgypsies.wordpress.com …my co-author has a pretty talent,,,i know you may get this kinda request often, and if you have a fee schedule…maybe I can afford such…my stuff seems stiff, flat, and really technical…but I am kinda proud of captain toes and tori…i’m more visual, I think…anyway I value your opinion

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  5. I personally can’t stand when a novel is completely plot-based, just in the sense of a character acting out of character simply to follow a certain plot goal. Or, for example, when deus ex machinas are introduced just to further the plot. Plot-based is fantastic, as long as it’s realistic!
    I am also not a very big fan of all-powerful heroes.
    What you listed is something I need to consider, too. I think my realistic dialogue may be lacking – being either too formal or too informal. Yikes! This was something I definitely needed to read today! 🙂

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    1. I with you on this, you need both plot and character and definitely no deus ex machinas.
      It’s good to be self critical but remember you can be you own worse critic, your dialogue might not be that bad. Try reading it out loud, see how it sounds.

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  6. Agree with all of your points there. When you are just starting out as a writer the hardest part seems to get the balance right. Must say, I hadn’t noticed the lack of bodily functions in the fiction I read and write but now you’ve mentioned it…my characters always seem to be drinking tea but never need to ‘powder their noses’ (as they would say, if they did!).

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    1. I think a lot depends on how long a scene goes on for. If the book describes the whole day then it should include food drink and other nessecities. But if it’s always short scenes that jump around you can get away with it

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