Plausibility is critical in order to keep your reader engaged in a novel. The moment someone pauses and says “this couldn’t happen” the spell is broken and they’ll shut the book. Some think plausibility is only important with conspiracy theories, thrillers, suspense, crime, and sci-fi novels but really every genre, no matter how simple, needs to have plausible elements to allow someone to fully submerge into the text.
But plausibility can be a very strange thing when writing fiction. I remember a session at a writer’s workshop where many in the group brought up that the order of events seemed implausible in another’s piece. The author protested that she based it on an actual event that happened to her. The teacher stepped in to explain that as fiction writers we must write for the greatest acceptance of our reader and to ultimately write the best story possible. Sometimes real life doesn’t seem believable and if someone tells you something doesn’t seem possible it will affect their investment in your story.
This seemed so ironic to me that you would have to change a story that actually happened to something different for those to believe it. But then I reread the definition of plausibility and that it’s not necessarily what is true but more what others will deem as credible or likely.
So how do test your draft for plausibility?
Critique partners and beta readers!
Yes, listen to these incredibly helpful (and valuable) self-less people who will let you know where you lost them or when something a character does doesn’t fly. Listen! If they say something doesn’t seem realistic (even if it happened) you must change it so that they can accept it better. Beta read widely and early in your drafts since you may have to change major elements.
Plausibility crops up its ugly head many times for me since I love to include little-known and odd details of past cultures. I don’t like the normal facts and well-known history, but my eyes widen and my pulse races at the bizarre and seedy secrets buried deep inside dusty research books. Well, this makes an interesting story but I hear so many times–“did this really happen?”
I can’t site these amazing details since I’m not writing non-fiction. I know that some historical fiction authors may throw one or two footnotes here and there to back up a true event but I would have one on every other page. Plus I’ve found that many detest these notations in fiction. So what did I decide to do?
Remove these details…
Heck no! My creativity thrives on these crazy real-life events. I didn’t want to write about the ancient Egypt that everyone knows from 9th grade history text-book or the Spartan society depicted in the movie 300. I wanted to surprise people! I want to take the reader deeper into a past that will even expand a historian’s knowledge.
So I decided to listen to my betas and tried to make the details as credible as possible. But I thought it would be best if I created a whole page on my website that will discuss these incredible facts and suggest further reading for those who are interested. I will post this background information upon my novel’s launch.
What about you? Do you ever struggle with plausibility in your novels or have heard those horrible words from a beta reader?