Plausibility

I was discussing with Sarah a realistic novel she’s reading, and she related being bounced out of the fictional dream by a lapse in plausibility. The emotional power of the scene in question was completely undercut by her doubts that the characters would have gotten themselves in that situation to begin with. My favorite summation of the issue is by Edith Merrilees: “Plausibility is the morality of fiction.” This issue comes up all the time in creative writing classes in which students will defend an implausible bit of plot in a story based on “real life” by objecting, “but that’s the way it really happened!” Too bad. The bar is set higher in fiction. It has to be more persuasive because it’s fiction, and the reader assumes it never really happened. I’m currently immersed in Kelly Link and Jeffrey Ford stories where anything can happen and often does, but especially in such stories in which the narrative logic creates its own reality, plausibility is essential. If the imagined reality is inconsistent, then the reader is jarred out of the dream. Beginning writers are fond of giving characters immense magic powers, but then can’t explain why the characters ever have any difficulties the magic won’t solve. The Matrix movies always left me wondering why anyone would waste time fighting in a virtual world. Coincidence presents a particular difficulty. Life is full of them. Novels are full fo them. In general, however, a reader will accept an unlucky coincidence before a lucky one. Bad luck, I suppose, seems more plausible than good luck. A story can begin with good fortune–someone winning the lottery or discovering a magic amulet—but after that the reader will be skeptical of any more happy accidents.

2 thoughts on “Plausibility

  1. Speaking of the matrix I’ve always wondered
    If they (borrowed) from circuit of heaven

    And also did you do a screenplay for it?
    would be a great movie if they followed
    your vision.But thet would probably butcher it.

  2. Screenplay were done by others and shopped around at about the right time for a few borrowings, I suppose. It’s being shopped around now, as it happens.

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