Making the Impossible Real- Part I

I know I've been quite remiss in blogging over these last few weeks. I could blame a number of things, but really that would just be showering you with excuses. So, instead, along with a mea culpa, I'll just jump right into the first in a series of posts I've planned concerning writing genre fiction.

Making the Impossible Real- Part I

It is the job of the genre writer, whether it be fantasy, horror, or science fiction, to make the impossible, or improbable, possible in the mind of the reader. There are a variety of ways writers employ to do this, but the best stories follow a set of guidelines that keep the reader's mind in the perspective of the world of the story. As long as the reader doesn't think, "oh, come on," then the writer has done the job right.

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, for example, has dragons, the walking dead, and blood magic (among other things). None of these things causes us any trouble while we're reading it. Instead of saying to ourselves, "oh, that's ridiculous," we say, "oh, how cool!" How is this possible when none of these things are experienced in the world around us?

First rule of the improbable-
Internal Consistency

If the writer establishes what is possible in the realm of the story, and keeps things within those boundaries for the length of the story, then we are more likely to accept them no matter how ridiculous these things would be in the real world.
For example, if in the first three chapters of a book, we hear tales of witches who fly on broomsticks in the night, and then the main character encounters one in chapter four, we are not surprised even if other characters have told the main character he is stupid for believing in witches. The author has established that witches could exist in the universe, so we can accept that they do.
If, however, the author establishes that the world of the book is supposed to be the world in which we all live, and then we see a person walking through walls without any further explanation as to how this could be, we as readers will rightly be saying to ourselves, "wait, what the hell?"

I've read books before where things are set up and run smoothly, the writer is stays within his own established limits and then, in the middle, something happens that goes against what the writer has spent so much time setting up. The feeling is like being on a train that just jumped off the tracks. There's a bump, and then the sickening sensation of something being horribly wrong before the crash of emotions and confusion at the end. When I was a teenager, this happened in one of my favorite book series and I threw the book across the room in disgust. I didn't touch it again for six months (it stayed in the corner of my room, gathering dust on the floor. I didn't even want to look at it). Obviously, as a writer this is not the reaction you want to illicit from your reader.

Internal consistency, sticking to the rules of the universe that you, the writer, established is probably the single most important factor in making the impossible, or improbable, palatable. I cannot stress this enough. Without it, the world of the book just doesn't make sense and the reader may even feel cheated.

In the next post I'll confront the second guideline to making the improbable possible, Making Sure Your Reader Can Relate to Your Story.
-Coming Soon!


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