Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Improbable, Implausible but....Possible?
After writing the first draft of my novel Indigo Blaze, I gave it to my husband to read. For a guy who typically reads Tactics for SWAT for fun, reading a YA paranormal romance was a big stretch. Surprisingly, he got hooked, even though there wasn’t even one mention of guns, bullets or tactics. Once he finished reading, he sat silent for several minutes, staring at the sheets of paper, and then said: “Wow. Very ambitious.” Initially I had no idea what he meant, but after some questions I realized he was speaking to my heavy, improbable, paranormal premise.
I remember looking up some books on Amazon.ca in the same genre and reading some reviews. One particular book that was similar to mine featured some heavy themes and a similar premise by a debut author. One of the comments said “Ambitious for a breakout novel. But she (the novelist) pulled it off.”
Is it too ambitious for a first time writer to tackle a heavy, improbable premise?
The hardest part of writing this kind of novel is obviously the believability. I have read too many books and watched too many movies that are absolutely gripping throughout, but when it comes to the climax - when the alien, God, or the Devil are finally revealed - it falls flat. I really dislike disappointing endings and I don’t want to disappoint my potential readers that way.
There are a few writers who do pull it off, however. How do they do it? I went looking for a step-by-step cookbook for how to do it.
In The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass speaks to the issue of overcoming reader skepticism. His first pointer is to start in the middle of action to plunge the reader directly into the conflict and then before the reader has a moment to reflect, keep that conflict jumping off the pages.
Then he advises to make a case in detail for the scenario you are spinning and work it throughout the plot, beginning with your characters motivations and convictions. That way, even if we as readers don’t necessarily believe in aliens, we’ll still believe that the character does.
Next, he suggests boning up on your evidence that builds the case for your wildly improbable scenario, and then to wield that research like a hammer, obliterating all reader skepticism. Find what is unbelievable in your story and remove every morsel of doubt by answering every possible question of why this could really happen. How? Do your research. How is it possible that aliens exist? Lay your research out in detail.
Donald’s final pointer is passion. Passion is that little something special about the author that comes through in the story. In my novel, it’s paranoia. Paranoia was interwoven throughout that novel, hopefully building a case for why the character is afraid; my own (paranoid) passion glinting out through the words.
I hope my ambitious goal was achieved. Something that my husband said made me hopeful: “I couldn’t read it by myself. I was too scared.” This, coming from a guy who swarms houses with real-life murderers inside! Maybe my character’s motivations and convictions combined with my detailed research made the unbelievable premise work.
And maybe a touch of my own paranoid passion that I painstakingly wove into the story actually jumped off the pages and instilled a creepy, unsettled feeling in even the most courageous reader!