Perception and Probability

by James Helvig

As writers we’re happiest when the words are flowing at a breakneck pace. When the muse isn’t simply speaking, but screaming for our attention, hopping up and down and gesturing wildly like a man caught in the throes of a grand mall seizure! For those rare moments, the pages pile up and the word count soars…it’s AWESOME…but for each storm there is a calm, and of course the inevitable wreckage created in its passage.

So what is writer’s wreckage you ask? Composition debris…especially when we’re on fire! We all have these at some point…plot holes, unresolved threads, inconstancies in character or story. Too much filler, too little dialogue, or anything that fails to progress or more importantly, drops the reader OUT OF THE STORY!

As the creators of our worlds we take liberties with reality and that’s ok…to a point. BUT when we sacrifice believability simply because it’s convenient or it “makes” the story work, we cheat ourselves and our readers. A hard core criminal suddenly has a change of heart and becomes compassionate for a stranger…a little old lady takes down a SWAT team…a top notch investigator forgets a basic procedure. These are real scenes from published works that made me (and many others, by the reviews) pause and throw the red BS flag!

It didn’t sound real…it was a wave of the magic wand…the kind of resolution that drives readers AWAY.

As writers we know what the backstory is…we KNOW how these things happened and have rationalized it; to. by. damn. WORK! This is why it’s vitally important to get an outside perspective. Let a beta reader, a trusted colleague, someone you trust to give you unbiased feedback, and to review your work before you send it for submission. In the fictional genre, probability is the meat of our stories…”what if” is our hook…that which sets our stories apart and makes them uniquely our own.

What we must not do is give in to the temptation of finishing by taking the easy path…find a solution that could happen, even if its improbable. It just can’t be IMPOSSIBLE! If we’ve done our work well, our characters are multi-faceted people of depth…get inside their heads… make THEM figure it out!

Ask why…how…where…would they do this thing? What would motivate them? Inhibit them, etc.

When we get the perception down we’ll more clearly see the story from the perspective of our characters and more critically, our readers.

Beth Burgmeyer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *