Trying to figure out plausibility

Last week I asked a friend to look at a couple of chapters with the idea he would rip into them and tell me how bad they were. For various and sundry reasons that didn’t really happen, which is fine. However, what did come out of it was the general comment that there are plausibility problems. Nothing super major. I mean I am writing a fantasy story. There should be a lot of stuff that just can’t be. No, the issue was more specific to the human side of stuff. Mostly, how people are reacting/not reacting to certain circumstances. What really made the nature of the comment clear to me was the statement, Your main character is supposed to have been a soldier, but he’s not really acting like it. I brought the topic up with my wife when I got home, and also shared some thoughts on where the story is going next. Once again, the plausibility issue came up with rather vigorous discussion. This one makes me feel bad too, because I spend a lot of my time trying to make sure things are plausible. It really doesn’t feel good to have messed up an aspect I put a lot of energy into.

Okay, so it’s clear I’ve got a problem, what do I do? Turns out that’s not so easy. A few of the plausibility issues are embedded deeply in the detail. I’ve already gone through most of this stuff a few dozen times, and so I think it’s going to be tough for me to work out whether or not a particular bit of description or a reaction by a character works, or if it’s trash. I think I can do it, but I expect I’ll miss a lot the first time around, unfortunately that’s not really a solution, more of an approach.

The one place where my reviewer pointed out a problem he characterized as just being in the details will actually require a pretty thorough re-write to bring a measure of plausibility to it. Why? well, what he pointed out was just a symptom of a much larger problem, which I did see clearly once it was pointed out. It wasn’t just the details that were problematic, it was the entire situation that didn’t make any sense, which is why the details weren’t right. How could they be? I don’t think this is the only place I’ve got this problem, once I go through it looking for it, I expect most of my chapters will need rather a lot more work.

Another issue I’ve got with plausibility is a lot broader. While the plot is generally sound, I think, there are key elements that are pinned on pretty weak justification or on events that would not have ended in the manner I have described or imagined. It’s written so that those inconsistencies really don’t make themselves known until pretty late in the story.

My solution? I don’t have one, at least not a good one. I spent the weekend brooding on it (and going to a whiskey tasting), and can’t think of a way to really address some of these larger issues without re-writing significant chunks of the story to make the key plot points sit on top of much more plausible circumstances. Maybe that is what needs to happen, but really, how many times can I do that before I have to admit defeat and throw in the towel? I can’t say I’ve hit that point yet, but if the first reaction to a fantasy novel is that it’s not believable, that’s a major problem. If your reader is already expecting implausible stuff, yet it’s not believable. Damn, though I did ask for it, and I got it.


2 thoughts on “Trying to figure out plausibility

  1. efrussel says:

    First off: whiskey tasting, nice. I salute you.

    Secondly: God, but I know what you’re talking about. I’ve been working on this story lately that features a magician and a magician-style water escape, and I cannot, CANNOT, get that escape to the point where it’s both plausible and it works with the story. My boyfriend, a magician, has been advising me on magical plausibility, and hoo boy, there has been some love lost on that subject.

    My point is, though–plausibility sucks for this reason. It might be the smallest detail, the littlest trickle of anti-probable knowledge, and it wrecks the whole damn thing. And there’s no way to fudge, no way to work around it, except to wade in there and change more than you probably wanted to change ever. And there’s just no easy way to fix it, there just isn’t. You have to work and work, and fiddle with that scene and fiddle, until it both passes reality muster AND provides what you need for the continuation of story.

    Whether you want to throw in the towel depends entirely on how willing you are to let the story go. I mean, the only thing I’ve been able to do is assume what needs to happen in that scene happens, let it stand temporarily, and Write Onward. But as for hashing out that scene? I make an ugly attempt every few days. Some day, I might even get it right.

    Sorry for the long post. Just–hot damn, I feel your pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dave S. Koster says:

    Yeah, the whiskey tasting was excellent. Best part, my wife volunteered to drop me off and pick me up!

    As hard as it feels, I can totally see that I’m going to have to go in and do some serious re-working, and perhaps some of it is not as bad as I think it will be. I’m partly dreading it because a lot of that work is done and reasonably polished, but there’s a part of me saying: ‘Screw it, I’m going to gut every bit that even had a hint of being unbelievable. It’s going to be way the hell better when I get done.’ Anyhow, thanks for your comment. It’s given me perspective and I honestly feel better just now. I don’t think I’ll be throwing in the towel on it. I’m way too stubborn for anything like that.


Make it a conversation, leave a comment below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s