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.