Have you ever put a book down because you didn’t believe the plot? I have. You won’t pick that book back up, nor will you read another book by that author – I won’t.
We are all familiar with the term suspension of disbelief. Let’s face it, as readers approach stories we want to believe them. Readers have both the intention and desire to believe what is going to happen. As writers, then, our goal isn’t to convince the reader to suspend her disbelief, but rather to give her what she wants by continually sustain her belief in the story.
It’s a matter of understanding the mindset and expectations of your readers. Readers want to immerse themselves in profound belief. We need to respect the reader enough to keep that belief alive for the duration of the story.
Let’s say you create a world in shambles with no electricity. You must create this world on the page and through your characters, the reader will accept that—but now she’ll want you to be consistent. As soon as someone whips out a cellphone, the consistency of that world is shattered. The reader will begin to either lose interest and eventually stop reading, or will disengage from the story and begin to look for more inconsistencies—neither of which you want her to do.
As readers stop believing your story, they’ll stop caring about your story. And readers stop believing stories when characters act confusingly or out of character.
When writing continually ask yourself, “What would this character ‘naturally’ do in this situation?” And then I let him do it. Don’t force his behavior – it will read forced.
We know as readers we’re asking the same question; “What would this character naturally do?”
The minute your characters acts unbelievable, either in character or the story’s development, the reader loses faith in the writer’s ability to tell that story.
Also realize that when something that’s unbelievable or odd happens, don’t be afraid to let your character notice and respond to it; “I never expected her to say that,” “What? That just doesn’t make sense,” or, “Obviously there’s more going on here than I thought when I first saw the gun.”
If a character acts in an unbelievable way, you’ll need to give the reader a reason why—and it’d better be a good one. Always remember to give the reader what he wants, or something better. If you don’t give the reader believability, you must satisfy him with a twist that thrills him more than he ever expected.