By Dennis Collins
Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…
Why did we find these characteristics so believable when we were kids? Well, they were explained in what seemed to be a logical claim. Superman was from a planet with a much greater gravitational pull. When he arrived on earth, he was just naturally much stronger than the native inhabitants. We believed that it was something that could happen. Superman absolutely had to possess these superior powers or there would have been no story. Where would poor old Lois Lane have been?
As a fiction writer, I feel that it is my responsibility to sell the reader a logical explanation of circumstances in order to keep the plot believable. If my story loses credibility, I’ve lost the reader. I have been disappointed many times when reading a good story only to have it turn a corner into a situation so unlikely that it loses plausibility.
Poetic license certainly allows an author the capacity to stretch conditions but he must constantly be aware of how much the reader is willing to stretch. The amount of stretch is limited by how convincingly the author sells his string of logic. In my novel, The Unreal McCoy, I needed a large, substantial building in an extremely remote wilderness area and so I made it a remnant of the war effort from the Second World War, built as a facility for maintenance and snow removal to keep the copper mine railroad lines open during northern Michigan winters. I even fooled an historian with this.
There wouldn’t be many mystery novels written if we weren’t allowed to use coincidences. In some ways, they’re just easy ways of making things happen but I feel they’re best reserved for getting over an otherwise insurmountable wall. There is a temptation to use coincidence to set up situations but overuse is quickly spotted by the reader and has the same effect as an extremely far-fetched scenario.
Just remember that the reader has to believe that it could happen.