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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Are These Shoes For Real?

Interesting, aren't they? I have a hard time believing anyone would wear them. But, what do I know? Maybe the woman is wearing them out of respect for her recently departed grandmother who designed them. Or, perhaps the man sitting across from her threatened to kill her if she didn't wear them, and she believed him because he killed her best friend last week over the same thing. It could be that, in the society she lives, these shoes are common. If we have unbelievable scenarios in our writing, it is our job as authors to answer these questions for our readers. Otherwise, they won't ever believe. In The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass discusses this issue in reference to suspense/thriller, but I think his concepts hold true for any genre. To make a reader believe the unbelievable, we have to do three things: 1. Make our protagonist's motivations clear and give them a reason to feel whatever it is they are feeling, which in turn gives them a reason to act the way they do. Then, in the words of Maass, "Pump it up." 2. Make our antagonist's motivations clear and understandable (they can't just be evil for the sake of being evil), and then put some obstacles in his/her way. 3. Come up with every possible argument against the believability of plot and negate it with proof (even if contrived) that it could happen and is, in fact, happening. I've had to work with this issue. Again, just ask my beta readers. But, I'll tell you this: Any far-fetched story can become believable with a little work. So, do you write safe in the believable? Or do you test the waters? If so, what have you done to make your readers believe?

51 comments:

Mary said...

Great advice - awesome shoes- ha ha. I think that back story comes in to play here. I try to write a back story for all of my main characters. Doing this helps me to know the motivation behind the characters actions and emotions. I feed this backstory in little by little, but of course I don't add all if it. Readers don't want to know everything, but I think we need to know everything.

Tess said...

What??? Those are some twisted shoes!

But - good advice. thanks for passing it along :D

Matthew Delman said...

I know the back story for my antagonist (not that it matters in the context of the story I'm telling, but I do know it), so I attempt to make sure he acts in character with that back story at all times.

And I agree with Mary. The reader doesn't care about what the MC got as a birthday present when they were 10, but we as the author care if that birthday present influences the way the MC reacts to situation x, y, and z.

What frightens me about those shoes is someone thought they were a good idea.

Janna Qualman said...

Well shoot. I guess someone, somewhere would wear those shoes; I know not me. I also know I have to get Fire in the Fiction!

LOVED the scenarios you came up with for that picture and why she had the shoes on. I love doing stuff like that.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

The story I'm editing definitely has an "unbelievability" factor. I'm absolutely in love with it... but might need to do more research to make sure I cover all the holes.

Amy Tate said...

Oh my goodness! Imagine the pain...for the reader and for the poor woman!

Tamika: said...

Those shoes can't be real! But somehow you convinced me otherwise.

More great Maas tips. I think I walk the bridge of believability. Maybe I shoud consider throwing more twists. Thanks!

Robyn Campbell said...

Oh man! OUCH, I say OUCH! If I ever wear shoes like that, please just shoot me! Because my feet will be in pain.

Hey, unbelievability is the name of the game. It is what gives our stories an edge they need. If we make our readers believe it is happening, like you say. Great post again!

Maass is just amazing! :)

Solvang Sherrie said...

I can't believe anyone would wear those! Yikes! I write MG fantasy so I'm always working to make my readers believe the impossible :)

jbchicoine said...

I like setting things up in a believable world, grounding my reader in real life and them challenging their perspective with the very unlikely—with the extraordinary. I’m hoping I’ve pulled it off by applying all the things you just posted.

Jennifer Major said...

Susan - i dare you to find shoes that make a woman's foot arch any more than that poor soul's! And, as always, thanks for the thought provoking blog.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Those shoes are downright scary- reminds me of the Spanish rack!

The reminder to make clear a character's reason for acting the way they do is a biggie. I hate seeing villains that are bad simply because they're bad. It's a little too Disney for my tastes.

Bane of Anubis said...

Excellent points!

re: shoes -- back when my wife was an intern, a drunken lady in crazy high heels (nothing as crazy as the pic, though) stumbled down the side of the hill and did some serious damage to her knee... so serious it cut off blood supply and they had to amputate... so, speaking of motivation, I will never understand the motivation for ladies to wear high heels :)

Carolyn V. said...

For the readers to believe your characters can't do anything that is...um...out of character for them. =)

Those are weird shoes btw. How does she even stand up in those things? Maybe she has someone on each arm to keep her steady.

Patti said...

Motivations are everything. I used to believe that you can just write your characters into any situation, but that is so not true.

Those shoes are like stilts. I would break my ankle even trying to sand in them.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Strange shoes. Never seen any like 'em before. Great post.

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

quixotic said...

Those are some crazy shoes!

Dawn Simon said...

Funky shoes. I'd probably break a leg walking in them.

My WIP is a paranormal YA. I hope it feels believable! I really, really do! :)

Leah Rubin said...

Wait, I have those shoes. Not. They look like my idea of suicide. But once again you have done a wonderful job of using footwear as a springboard to discuss writing. Good post!

Deb@RGRamblings said...

Thanks Susan. Great info!

Karen said...

I haven't really experimented much with the unbelievable, but I've read a few books that have successfully done it. These are great tips to remember.

Tere Kirkland said...

Great advice! I'm all about writing the unbelievable. And I think that by using realistic detail, I am able to make my fantasy plots more believable.

I may have to work on my antagonist's motivations, though. Thanks!

Dominique said...

My current WIP is contemporary, so I have less to struggle with in terms of world building and such for believability. However, since my MC is doing things most people wouldn't think to or care to do, I feel I need to make her motivations believable.

Paul said...

I'm working with this issue right now. How to make my antagonist more real, more relatable even though he does some outrageous things.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

In my YA this was definitely an issue since it was paranormal. In my romance, it's more a focus on making sure the motivations are developed enough so that my characters' decisions make sense to the reader. Great tips, btw.

Veronica Barton-Dean said...

I saw this cool pair of shoes the other night. There were all glass. I took a pic for you, because as soon as I saw them I thought of you:)

Anissa said...

Alright. Those shoes aren't even cute. I can understand suffering for fashion, but seriously? Girlfriend, what were you thinking?

L. T. Host said...

Ha; I love your explanation for why that lady is wearing those shoes. :)

I tend to push the limits of the believable depending on what I'm writing, haha. My fantasy novel had gods and magic, etc., but I also researched the right time period to set it and made sure that it could really happen-- if there were gods and magic, etc., in that world.

In my current WIPs, things are a tad more realistic but I still have explanations for all the "what the heck?" moments that are in them. There's suspension of disbelief inherent in any work, even non-fiction, and it's up to the author to employ it in the most credible way possible.

staceyjwarner said...

OMG! Those shoes! HA HA!

My story is a bit unbelievable and it actually happened, LOL. My work is getting my readers to see what lead my character "me" to make these choices...

much love

Danyelle said...

Great post!

For the record, I would find a new civilization if those shoes were required footwear. I would kill myself in something like that. >.<

Very good points. Something that I think is important that comes out of those steps is 3-D characters. Evil people don't usually see themselves as evil, so it feels more 1-2 D when characters are evil just for the sake of the story rather than for their own sakes and as a consequence of their actions.

Anna C. Morrison said...

OOOh, I love it when things are spelled out! I want to go create an evil character to rival even Sylar!!! Now I can, with your advice. :) Thx! And, you know, the mom character in one of my stories is not "believably evil enough" or so I've been told, and now I have ideas on how to pump that up!!! So cool! Thx for the epiphany!

strugglingwriter said...

He he. Well done on that intro paragraph to this post.

Those are some dangerous shoes.

#167 Dad said...

Ican't get over your brilliant segues.

Julie Dao said...

Looks like something Victoria Beckham would wear. I don't think I could STAND in those shoes, let alone walk in them. My goodness! Love the analogy. Great post as always!

Regina Quentin said...

It is way too great how you can tie in an amazing point about writing to the pictures you display. Awesome as usual.

I write in the realm of normal for the most part. I have an idea for a new story that will require me to really explain myself well or it will come off as too fantastic. I'm not sure if I will branch out and write the story or not.

Jade said...

Since I write paranormal I think this is especially true. In my case I try to suspend belief but I'm not sure exactly how I do this. I try to not get too carried away--it has to have some grounding in reality even though there are paranormal elements.

Now I'm intrigued to what your story is about. Hmmm....

Amy said...

Note the woman wearing those shoes is sitting--not standing or walking around. I bet she carries them and puts them on once she's comfortably seated.
I write believable stuff, but my current WIP involves the murder of a boy, a convicted sex offender and a one-night stand w/a brother-in-law which resulted in the boy (who ends up murdered). Because I've had to do a lot of research on weird topics, I'm just hoping the FBI never asks for my hard drive. They'd lock me up in a heartbeat!

Cindy said...

Those shoes are insane. In the past I've tended to stay on the safe side, writing stories that are easy to believe. But now that I'm taking more risks, I definitely realize that it's very important to make the protagonists motivations clear and strong in order to reach the reader in a believable way.

Tabitha Bird said...

even memoir writers have to watch out for this, because sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction and you have to watch that you give enough info to make motivations clear and action scenes believable not just 'true' :)

LOL about the shoes! They cannot be real.

~Ellie Kings~ said...

What you didn't get the memo Susan? These are the shoes of the future... that is a test subject. ;0

I think I'm doing well with 1&2, can't say much for 3. Thanks for your help.

Stephanie Faris said...

Motivation is everything in fiction. I've learned you can pretty much make anything possible as long as you motivate everything properly. Heck, everyone fell in love with a book series about vampires and werewolves (Twilight), when neither thing exists!

Lily Robinson said...

So true. I dislike reading something that makes me say, "Oh, that wouldn't really happen..." When I read a story, I want to believe, to be pulled into it.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Wow, great post. Makes me think. I can recall a few comments on plausibility, but I think I fixed them, though I might be wrong. Humans, and therefore our characters are complex people, so it's easy to not suspend disbelief if you don't take care of the nitty gritty first, setting the unbelievable up to be believable. It's a challenge, but like Maass says it can be done with some work.

Heather Sunseri said...

You've been writing some incredible posts lately that are really making me think as I dig deeper into my characters in rewrites. Thanks.

Those shoes are a little wacky!

Angie Muresan said...

Dang those are some crazy shoes! Make it believable. Right.

Beth said...

Those shoes are just...wow.

Another great post! (I bought the book because of you...Donald Maass owes you another thank you!)

Cassandra Frear said...

Love your shoe motif and the way you use it.

Terresa said...

Must comment on those shoes: they are (in the words of a famous cartoon pigeon from "Bolt") "Ridonculous!" (misspelling intended!)

Erica said...

Those shoes look like little high chairs! Crazy :)

You know, I think believability is important. Right now in my WIP I have to create Purgatory and the rules that govern it. It's been an interesting ride, for sure. Whether it will be believable. I sure hope so, with work of course and some research!

It's our job to make the unbelievable believable right?

Another great post.

zhangxia said...

oops!I've never seen that before!Once upon a time, two women created the cutest velour hoodies and matching drawstring pants. The line was called Christian Louboutin and every starlet in Tinseltown had to have one. Soon after, so did the rest of the world. Now the once little brand has blossomed into a fashion empire, complete with clothing, Christian Louboutin Shoes, jewelry, handbags, and most recently, fragrance.

Dara said...

Great points! I'm thinking I'm gonna need to get that book...