Mark Twain once said: Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.
Have you ever read a novel and thought, “I’m so sure. That would never happen.” And then you put the book down because, well, it doesn’t ring true. It was unbelievable, and you lost confidence in the writer. I felt this way when I watched THE VOW. I almost turned the DVD off because I thought the movie was too far-fetched. But I didn’t, and I’m glad I kept watching because it wasn’t until the end that I discovered it was based on a true story. Then I felt okay with it. When it’s true we can believe it because it really happened, but when we’re writing fiction we have to make sure the scenario has a huge possibility.
How do you make something in your novel sound believable when it doesn’t? I’ll show you by using an example.
This week I’m reviewing MY SISTER’S KEEPER by Jodi Picoult. I’ve seen the movie, and I know it was based on a true story. I’m reading it because I’m plotting a similar story and wanted to read how Jodi structured her plot.
Read this excerpt:
“Oh, really?” She leans forward, counting off on her fingers. “The first time I gave something to my sister, it was a cord blood, and I was a newborn. She has leukemia–APL–and my cells put her into remission. The next time she relapsed, I was five and I had lymphocytes drawn from me, three times over, because the doctors never seemed to get enough of them the first time around. When that stopped working, they took bone marrow for a transplant. When Kate got infections, I had to donate granulocytes. When she relapsed again, I had to donate peripheral blood stem cells.”
Okay. Stop and ask yourself, Does this sound like a teenager talking? It is, but I thought it sounded like someone much older, didn’t you? It wasn’t believable. This is based on a true story so we’re more likely to believe it, but what if it wasn’t? How could the author make us believe that this dialogue is from a teenager?
Watch what the author does next. This is the next paragraph. It’s from the attorney’s point-of-view–the woman whom the girl is speaking to.
This girl’s medical vocabulary would put some of my paid experts to shame. I pull a legal pad out of a drawer. “Obviously, you’ve agreed to be a donor for your sister before.”
The author addressed that it sounded far-fetched. She noticed it just like we would, but she justified it, too.
When you’re writing fiction that seems unbelievable help the reader believe it by addressing it in your story. Have your characters react to the unbelievability.
How do you make your unbelievable fiction ring true?