February 8, 2012

Rants & Raves: Authors, Ground Your Stories, PLEASE.

This is a new feature that will appear sporadically on the blog, whenever I have a bookish issue I need to rant or rave about. Feel free to comment with your thoughts!
Creativity is valued by those in the writing world — and rightfully so. The "muse" is all-important in guiding a story through to its best form. And no one wants to read a book that sounds like every other fill-in-the-blank book out there.

So agents, editors, and publishers are constantly looking for that fresh, original, next Big Thing. And authors are constantly trying to write what the publishers are looking for.

And I've noticed that in this quest, something seems to get lost along the way sometimes: authenticity. Authors are so eager to get that winning premise, that undeniable hook, that crazy new idea no one's yet written a book about...that they forget the reader's needs in all their excitement.

Because yes, readers want creative too, but: they also want rational. And they want different, but: they also want familiar. Your story has to MAKE SENSE — even if it's just an internal, within-the-confines-of-that-world sense that, for instance, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has. And it has to speak to something that the reader can identify with. Readers need to relate on some level.

Even the Cheshire Cat displayed logic...of a sort.

So whether your book involves genetic mutations or a new virus or brainwashing or what-have-you, base it on actual scientific research as much as possible. (Sorry, sci-fi/dystopian writers: I'm picking on you in particular because that seems to be a continual problem in your genre these days in YA.) Yes, you're a writer, but you can't make everything up or nothing you write will be believable. It's called "make-believe" for a reason: your job is to MAKE the reader BELIEVE. That's not going to happen if you don't base your story on reality in some way.

Otherwise, you'll get dissatisfied readers looking like this:

And if your story takes place in a unique world with a whole new set of rules, give us characters we can connect with. Individuals who, despite the vast differences between the world you've created and ours, find themselves in situations and predicaments that, in one way or another, we too find ourselves in. People who share our values, principles, beliefs, and goals. Characters we'll care about.

Because, let's face it: if you're writing a fantasy/sci-fi novel and your world-building's shaky, the reader needs to be engaged with the characters. And even if you have stellar world-building, if the reader's not feeling invested in the story, the odds that they will finish your book start to drop dramatically.

So, to sum up: authors, please ground your stories in worlds and ideas we can believe and characters we can become. And then, whether or not you have tapped into the next Big Thing, your story will feel real.

Which, to the reader, is what's truly important.


  1. Yes! All of this! I identify with the doubtful look the dog is giving us! Seriously, this is an issue I stumble over frequently. I'm so ready to believe whatever world is created if I can just identify somewhat with the characters or what's going on. Also, consistency is nice...

  2. Totally agree. I understand that not all writers are scientists, and for that reason I'm willing to shrug off the pseudoscience in books like ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX.

    But there are certain very popular books (DIVERGENT, THE SCORPIO RACES) that I was unable to enjoy because they required far too much suspension of disbelief. In both of them, the characters' success was dependent on either some non-sensical, innate specialness, or impossible odds that were shrugged off at the climax. (Also, both Tris' world and Puck's decision to race in the Scorpio Races seemed very much along the lines of "just go with it and don't ask questions.")

    When characters do cool things, I expect those cool things to make sense within the confines of that world. If your character is an exception to these rules, I expect a good explanation of WHY. Same goes for characters' decisions.

  3. I agree with you whole heartedly. I agree with Yael about Divergent. It would have been a really great book, but the world building was just too ridiculous for me and it never really explained why it was set up that way. It would have been a really cool concept to explore if it had the realistic sociology behind it. Other stories have been that way. Sometimes the characters can't save it either because the world is just too illogical for the characters to act logically in it. Alice and Wonderland set up the world for it be illogical like you said, but there are others that don't set themselves up for these things. I can't wait to read more of these types of posts.

  4. YES!!!! Thank you! I hate it when I'm reading a book and all I can think about is how little sense the world building makes. That undermines everything. The characters end up acting stupidly, the plot isn't consistent or coherent. It's just BAD and makes the whole thing look sloppy. Like, if the author can't be bothered to make the world consistent, then why should I bother reading their book?

    I'd love to know which book inspired your rant.

  5. Great post :) I'm usually pretty easily taken in by pseudoscience (my brain /= science knowledge), but sketchy logic or characters doing things just because the story needs them to to progress bugs the crap out of me!

  6. LOL you know, this makes me wonder: what YA book did you possibly read recently that made you rant it into a post (makes me wonder so I know what to avoid :P ). ...

    But yeah, I couldn't agree more. Sigh. Better editing, I think, is needed.

  7. Great rant, Danya! I totally agree with you, sometimes an idea is great but if there's not enough info for the reader, it falls flat.

  8. Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts on this! I'm glad to know I'm not alone :)

    @Small Review and Cialina: LOL, well there have been a few dystopian books lately that have succumbed to this problem. One series in particular that comes to mind is the Chemical Garden series by Lauren DeStefano. I've mentioned my dislike of the scientific implausibilities/inaccuracies in my review of Fever, so it's no secret :D


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