Friday, June 15, 2012

Fiction is More Believable Than Reality

In my last post, I mentioned that my parents were really awesome when I was a teen (still are). My friends would hang out with them when I was at tennis lessons. I'd come home to find them drinking tea, eating, playing games, and having a great time without me. But if I wrote this into a manuscript, I think so many people would question the believability.


One of my writer friends recently told me an agent passed on her manuscript because she questioned something her MC did. The thing is, that incident was based on reality. It had actually happened in real life. Yet the agent found it unbelievable. See where I'm going here?


Reality is sometimes more unbelievable than fiction, which makes the whole "write what you know" thing tough sometimes.


Have you ever based a character or event on something that really happened and had it questioned for believability? Do you worry about this happening?

79 comments:

  1. In my current WIP the parents are around more than in some YA books. They aren't main characters, but they are a part of the MC's life. I did base a scene on something that happened between my me and my parents when I was a teen. I haven't submitted the work yet to know if it will be questioned, but I don't think it will be...I hope. :) But, yes, I do worry about it.

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    1. It's kind of crazy that it's the reality in our fiction that we question, isn't it? Why is fiction so much easier to believe than real life? I'd love to know because it baffles me. LOL

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  2. I don't have to write fiction because my life is so unbelievable. I have so many experiences to talk about, it's not even funny. I have a dread of someone not believing it because I'm pouring my heart out and it really happened and the things I've been through are many and horrible! I remember Oprah and James Frey and I think, "Oh boy, if I write a book about all my stuff, she will never believe me!" Isn't that funny? Like Oprah will be reading my book ;0)

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    1. Hey, maybe Oprah will be reading your book. You never know. :)

      I get what you're saying, though. It's tough when really out of the ordinary things happen in real life and others have a hard time believing it. I've had the same type of experiences. I've even had things questioned in my own work and my reply was, "But it really happened." That only got more strange looks. I'm not sure what the answer is.

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    2. One time I wrote a short story about an early morning when I was out riding, and came across a mountain lion ready to pounce on a coyote she had already wounded. I scared her away with my gun, and the coyote allowed me to treat his wounds. When I was finished, his mate came out of the den and looked at me for a long moment...I know she was saying "thank you." I posted that story as a MWO on the Retreat, and promptly got a couple of PMs saying they didn't really believe me. Life is stranger than fiction, but many people just won't believe it!

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    3. Wow! That is an incredible story, Mikki. What experiences you've had!

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  3. I once received a lengthy hand-written rejection letter on a short story I wrote, detailing how a certain incident in the story could never have happened in real life. Of course, it was totally based on something that HAD happened in my own life and I wanted so badly to write back and tell her so. But I resisted ;)

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    1. Good for you for not replying. It's so tough when things like this happen. I feel like we need to add a disclosure to the manuscript. *Based on real events.* Though, I'm not sure that would work either.

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  4. First of all, how wonderful that your parents were so wonderful when you were a teen! I love that.

    It is amazing that sometimes reality doesn't seem believable. I have had someone question something a MC did- saying it didn't ring true- but it was something that had happened to me, so I knew it was true. I didn't reply back to them, but I have thought about how we are so quick to believe we could find a key to another world or that vampires exist in books, but we sometimes dismiss real life as "not believable". Crazy!

    Great post!
    ~Jess

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    1. Exactly! I guess when we know something couldn't happen, it's easier to accept what the author says about it. But if there's the possibility (even the slightest) that something is real, it gets questioned.

      I love my parents. :) I'm so lucky to have them.

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  5. That is wild since there are some outrageous fictional stories out there! I do find myself reading sometime and thinking the author got people wrong, but how presumptuous and egotistical that is of me!

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    1. LOL. I think maybe we need to stop thinking "That would never happen" and realize what we mean is "I would've have done that". Just because something isn't true for us, doesn't make it untrue for another.

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  6. I do think in fiction you have to be held more accountable for things being believable...even when real life is so unpredictable and unbelievable at times! I always try to pull experiences and emotions from life, but I try to make sure it always serves the story above all.

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    1. Great point. You do have to make sure you are serving the story. I wonder if maybe that's the reason why people question things based on real life. Maybe they don't serve the characters the way they served us. Something to think about. Thanks, Katie!

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  7. None of my work has been questioned, yet, as to being unbelievable. My latest book is loosely based on a newspaper article I read, though I changed the facts quite a bit. I never really thought about it. Now I am. :)

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    1. Sorry, didn't mean to make you question things. LOL. I hope your work isn't questioned.

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  8. I run into this as well. The only thing I can think of is to add an element to the character herself, which would make the 'real life' event more plausible in fiction. It's tough though; like everything else in the publishing world, it's subjective.

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    1. It really is subjective. That's a great point, Sherri. And I like the idea of adding an element to the character to make the incident believable for him/her. Great advice!

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  9. By the rules of fiction (at least nowadays*), the novel has to make logical sense. And in real life, people behave illogically. So, yes, I can see where readers would question behavior that is too realistic!

    I was questioned about many details regarding the Fox Sisters' hoax, but luckily I could point to historical record to back me up.

    * And I said "nowadays" because, have you ever read William Faulkner's AS I LAY DYING? There's a book that makes no sense. I'd like to see him query that sucker today!

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    1. I completely agree with AS I LAY DYING! That would never hold up being queried today. LOL

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  10. <3 your posts. Always insightful. I agree. Things that happened to me or things I or friends did in high school sometimes wouldn't exactly seem plausible. I had that friend's mom who was super cool. I think to pull it off you have to almost remove that parent in the book from the parental role. Make them act younger, dress younger. Almost in a way that we'd find them more accepting. I feel like a cool parent in fiction is more believable if they're letting the teen get away with something. Whether it's a party--driving a motorcycle or fixing the kids martinis. (And yes, I've met parent's who have done that in real life.)

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    1. LOL. Yeah, all those things are not believable in books. Though, now that I think about it, I've seen parents like that portrayed in movies. I wonder why movies can get away with it when books can't.

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    2. You make a valid point. We see these kinds of parents a LOT in movies. What gives? Guess someone had best break the mold. Hmmm my next WIP may be just the one!

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    3. Does YA feel more of a responsibility to present "ethical behavior" than the movie industry, because books are, you know, educational? I dunno. Funny to read all these stories about real events that no one believes could happen!!

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    4. You have a good point there, Helen. I didn't think about it that way.

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    5. Kelly, please jump over to my blog to receive your Lovely Blog Award--in celebration of summer, hard work, and the books we will publish!

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  11. My friends also hung out with my mom, even after I moved out, lol! Fact is stranger than fiction sometimes:) I'm returning your visit anf Follow. Thanks Kelly.

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    1. Thanks, Gwen. It's nice to hear someone else's parents are like mine. :)

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  12. That is a great question, Kelly. Crazy about the agent's response to your friend. Some things can be based in reality, but I think fictionalizing them, and separating them from our experiences, helps us as writers so we don't feel the need to stay "true" to what really happened.

    Have a good weekend.

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    1. That's a good point, Karen. I didn't think of that way.

      Enjoy your weekend!

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  13. Wow that is so cool your friends were close with your parents like that! Although I haven't written anything yet that was called out as unbelievable, I'm wondering if my relationship with my mom might be deemed "unbelievable" because we are very close and have had few arguments throughout my life. Unlike the stereotypical "mom and daughter" angst you sometimes see.

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    1. Same here. My mom is one of my best friends. We talk every day, and I couldn't imagine it any other way. Of course, I know that's not typical. Still, it's the kind of relationship I want for my daughter and me, too.

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  14. I haven't had this happen yet, but I think each MS is different. I grew up with a lot of friends who had awesome parents. I'd sit and chat with them about anything and hang out when their kids weren't there.

    I think there's always a place for reality in novels, but the reality needs to be true to the story. (If that makes sense :))

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    1. Wow, I'm amazed that two people have said their parents or friend's parents were like mine. Maybe it's not so unbelievable?

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  15. Never thought of it that way but it makes sense. This hasn't happened to my stories yet but I can understand why people think that way. I've had some "adventures" I still can't believe happened.

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    1. I think we all have, which is why this makes little sense to me. If we all have these unbelievable experiences, why do we find them unbelievable in fiction?

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  16. "Stranger than fiction." That's how some refer to certain real-life incidents.
    The only unreal part of realistic fiction is that in fiction we streamline the events and the character that drive them. We weed out the incidentals.

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    1. "Stranger than fiction." I love that!

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  17. A critique partner of mine once told me that one of the characters from my book (who was gay) was written too much like a caricature. Almost cliche because he acted like such a drama queen. That character was based on someone I knew in real life, so would it be right to tone down the "drama" just because of that? I didn't change him.

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    1. I'd say you can't base a change off the opinion of only one reader. If everyone or a handful of people who read it said the same thing, then I'd consider altering it slightly or providing justification for the character's actions. JMO

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  18. There's a reason I write paranormal/fantasy. Those readers WANT to believe it's real. :)

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    1. Same here. I write mostly paranormal/fantasy. But still, the things based on reality are the things people question, even in paranormal. Weird, right?

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  19. I have also included things that happened to me (in Egypt) and had CPs question them. The trick to getting around the disbelief is foreshadowing. Life is chaotic, fiction is not. So anything that happens, or the reaction of the mc, needs to be set up well -- even if that's not the way it happened.

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    1. That's a great suggestion. One that just might work. ;) Thanks!

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  20. I've been questioned on real things that have been fictionalized. Sometimes it's a question, but other times I've been hammered. I've learned my lesson.

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    1. Did you end up deleting those parts or were you able to make them work somehow?

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    2. I minimize the parts or revise them so that it's different yet with the same punch to the scene.

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    3. Clever. Thanks for sharing your technique for fixing this. :)

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  21. I can see your point here completely. Life is for the most part is habitual nothings that happen over and over again. Why write about those, right? Sometimes great things happen in life that would work perfectly. But, yes, for the most part, fiction is far more believable than reality.
    There is one thing that happened in my life that I def will use in one of my books. It was hilarious and swoon-worthy at the same time. Now you want to know, right? haha

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  22. Yes, that happened to me once when I first started writing. It was a teacher that questioned the believability. Which then prompted me to stop using real life experiences and start making everything up. Of course this brings on other problems, mainly that I have no idea what I'm talking about! :)

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  23. I think something that happened is believable when the character's reactions to the event meet with a majority of people's internal thoughts on how they might also react. It the two meet, then great. If not, then it could be disastrous for the story.

    If I wrote that I floated away on a cloud and drifted off to Russia, then who would believe that even if it did happen? But...if I explained what the cloud felt like, what the ocean landmarks were and the detail of the land in which I found myself, and if the reader could feel the integrity of my visceral responses to this event, then yes, it would be believable.

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    1. It would help if you were writing a paranormal novel, too. ;)

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  24. Yes, an agent told me that they couldn't believe that teenagers had casual sex so she would have to pass on my YA novel. The scene in question was almost completely comprised of real-life events. :)

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    1. I'm beginning to think this is the result of "not what I've experienced" rather than "not believable" but it's translating into being unbelievable.

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  25. Yes. I sent 3 chapters through a HS English class. One kid commented that nobody could be as disobedient as the MC. Well, the time my son got hit by a truck crossing the street on his bike was the 3rd time he got hit by a vehicle on his bike. Can't say I would believe it either.

    Following back from book blogs.

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    1. That's a great (but unfortunate) example, Sher. Most people wouldn't believe that, but it happened.

      Thanks for following.

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  26. I often have people telling me they don't buy things that I have taken from real life. It's true! Truth is often stranger than fiction. In real life things often come out of the blue and steamroller us. In a book we'd need to foreshadow the event so while it is still a surprise, we expect something out of the ordinary.

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    1. Yes! Foreshadowing is necessary in fiction, but it doesn't exist much in real life. Isn't that interesting?

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  27. It sounds like my parents were very similar to yours--they were (and still are) GOOD, FUN parents!

    And in working with teens, I can totally agree with you that some of the things they go through (positive or negative) would almost sound fantastical in a novel. Truth is SO often stranger than fiction. :0)

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  28. Hi Kelly, I would need to give this question a lot of thought. My fiction usually comes from my wild imagination, which I sometimes confuse with my childhood.

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  29. I question agents these days. Sometimes, they look for things to find wrong, when it is a great story sitting in front of them.
    I'm sure, no matter who our MC is, someone will question it.

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    1. I kind of think agents have to do that. They get so many submissions and can't take on everyone. I've heard some agents say, they read until you give them a reason not to.

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  30. You've just said what I've been thinking for a long time! Last year, my compositions were mostly fiction, but my teacher praised me for its realism, yet this year, under the same teacher, she said my composition was fake when it was exactly what happened to me! I guess it's not really the authenticity of the story that matters, it's the grounded / realistic feel you give your readers :)

    -Alicia
    bookaworld.wordpress.com

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  31. Not exactly the same thing, but your story of your parents and their open home reminded me of something. when I was in junior high school, my oldest brother was in college, only about 30-40 miles away. He lived in the college town, and would occasionally just show up at the door with a bunch of college kids.

    My mother wrote regular letters to one of them the entire time he was in Vietnam (this was late 60's, early 70's) and he came to our house before he made it home to his parents'.

    Another remarked that he was surprised that my mother wsa sitting down and playing a board game with the family. She said, "Well, I've cleaned the house, and dinner's in the oven. What else have I got to do?"

    He explained that his mother was never through cleaning the house. When she finished one end, she went back to the other and started over.

    My parents weren't always the easiest, but they were trustworthy. I think that's why other kids hung out at our house. They didn't hide things and they didn't lie. They were who they were. if that was a little cranky one day, everyone knew it was because they were real people, and weren't trying to be the Brady Bunch.

    I'm grateful for that reality.

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    1. That sounds like a great household to grow up in, Stephanie. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

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  32. Not that the character was questioned for believability, but I did write one minor character based on my idiot ex-brother-in-law, and had one of my main characters deck him. I felt though that the scene didn't really add to the context of the book, so I deleted it. It did have good therapeutic value, writing it.

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    1. LOL. I can see the therapeutic value!

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  33. Yes!! Agent responded quickly to my initial query and asked for the first 50 pages, and two weeks later she wrote and told me she was passing for the very reason you mentioned. Of course, I thanked her for reading, etc., but I couldn't help myself and told her the part she couldn't believe was a page out of my own book. IT WAS TRUE!! Go figure.

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    1. This is why the book industry is so subjective. What one believes and knows is true is questioned by another. We all lead different lives with different experiences. Just because one person never acted a certain why, doesn't mean lots of other people haven't either.

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  34. So subjective. I was telling someone about an international news event, debacle really ... blah blah blah, and the person in reply to my story said "It's all news hype anyway, nothing like that really happens in real life...." I smiled and thought to myself it was real to me since I lived it and my picture was on the cover of several newspapers. We all live different lives as you said, what is real to me because I lived it, might not be real to another because they didn't live it.

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    1. Exactly. It's a shame that more people don't see it that way, though.

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