I don't mean, ME as in Josi, but Me Again as in that's her blogger name. Here's her question:
How do you feel about LDS fiction stories that not only stray from the probable, but take a summer vacation into the not even possible?
I think that, regardless of the market (LDS, national, etc) believability is an essential characteristic of plot. That's the whole point of fiction--creating a world that feels 'real' enough that the reader can put aside their own life long enough to immerse themselves in this fictional realm. And yet, there is also a necessary element of the reader suspending their own beliefs enough to follow along. So there are two parties at play, the author and the reader.
Author: It's a tricky line; balancing the necessary elements of plot (characters, conflict and climax) against it 'feeling' real. In real life, people do things with very complex motives, they act out of character, they don't always make sense. In fiction, that doesn't work. Everything must have a reason; characters must have motives, the actions must be 'in' character, they must make sense on some level, and everything they do must lead somewhere. It's at times hard to do, and often takes another person to point out when something needs clarification. Too often, an author is seeing where they want to go and lose sight of the steps that are taking them there, often resulting in contrived or unbelievable scenes. They do the job of getting the character where they need to be, but their 'method of transportation' works against the integrity of the story. This is a shame since there was likely a better way to get from point A to point B; a mode the author would have discovered on their own if they would have questioned themselves about it. One of the best questions an author can ask themselves, and one I put into many manuscripts I edit is "Would he really?" meaning, would the character really do or say this; or are you the author taking advantage of your role as fiction-God and taking too many liberties?
Also, on the author side, it is sometimes impossible to be objective enough about your own work to see the breakdown of believability in our own stories which is why I am such a big proponent of having other 'writers' or editors read your book; someone who will tell you the truth so that your story makes sense.
I'm a big believer that a writer can write about anything; new worlds, weird people, incredible circumstances--but it has to be written right and it has to feel real.
Reader: Different types of readers have different levels of ability when it comes to suspending belief. For instance, I have a difficult time with Science Fiction and Fantasy because I find so many elements of the genres hard to picture in my mind. My ability to suspend belief is rather low when it comes to new worlds. Whether that's because I lack imagination, or simply practice, I don't know, but it results in the fact that because it's difficult for me to 'believe' those types of stories, I don't enjoy them very much. Now, there are some I absolutely love, but overall I dislike more than I enjoy. Same with a lot of mystery novels, which is ironic since I write them, but many of them just annoy me because I can't clearly see the process of discovery--the detective too often just 'knows' something that leads to the conclusion (I'm guilty of this as well--as a few readers have pointed out but I'm really, really working on it). Some people have a difficult time with LDS fiction because there is a lot of inspiration, feeling the spirit, and intuition that often makes the plot work. Some people are very open to that--likely people that acknowledge those same workings in their lives, but others of us (myself included) struggle with the way this is portrayed at times and that makes it seem contrived in order to make the plot work or to make their character appear spiritual. A reader that struggles with certain genres ought to be very selective in the books they read within that genre which is why The Whitney Awards are so very cool--look for past winners to get a feel for the best out there; these are books that have literally been read by hundreds of people that cast votes that put these books in the positions they are in. A valuable tool, especially for those of us that are selective within genres.
On the reader's side there is also the factor of becoming a more discerning reader. I've gone back and read books I loved fifteen years ago, only to find myself rolling my eyes now. As I've matured and become more well read, I've learned what I like and what I don't like. I've developed a much more critical eye and my taste in reading has become more sophisticated. If a reader finds themselves displeased with several books within a shared reading level or genre, it might be that they have reached a 'reading' level beyond their comfort zone and need to move on to something with a bit more 'meat' to it.
It's always frustrating to me when a book makes it into print without having the unbelievable factors ironed out. I'm not sure why it happens. Are there other parts of the story that were so strong to the editors of the book that they didn't notice? Am I hyper sensitive? Regardless, it's a frustration. I find that in regard to believability and other elements of writing, I give books a 100 page rule (it used to be 50 but I've taken a gracious turn) if by page 100 I'm not dying to finish the book, I don't. There are excellent books out there which means I don't have to waste my time on ones that were almost excellent.
So, dear readers, where do you fall on the believability scale? Are there genres you find harder than others?