Monday, October 17, 2011

Avoiding Authorial Convenience

This is something that's bugged me forever.

When you're reading along and something happens that makes you think, "Oh, Author, you totally wedged that in just because it's convenient to the direction you want the plot to go in. Lame!"

Don't get me wrong. We all do it. We all contrive events to shape the story. I've even discussed the joys of throwing wrenches into the works, just to mess with my characters. The problem is when the reader can tell that's what you're doing.

So, how to avoid? I think one key is consistency. If you get halfway through the rough draft and decide making Character X your MC's brother (plus he knew it all along, but kept it secret) is going to solve all your problems, great. But realize you're going to have to go back through and reshape Character X's early behavior. Not enough to give it completely away if it's a big twist, but enough that looking back, the reader can say, "Oh, yes, I see now!" (Foreshadowing/Hinting vs. Telegraphing ... have I done a post on that yet? No? Hmm, I probably should.)

When things come out of nowhere—even when there's nothing in the text to explicitly preclude them—it's just annoying. As a reader, it makes me feel like I'm being jerked around. I don't like that feeling.

What if the twist or turn comes in a later book in a series, though? What if earlier books are already published, thus establishing "canon"? That's trickier. I guess all you can do is try your best to make character and plot choices that are reasonably organic to what's already set in stone.

This is one of those things that I'm right on top of as a reader (and a hyper-critical one at that), but worry that I don't know how to avoid/spot/fix in my own writing. So if anyone has other thoughts or suggestions on how to prevent your readers from rolling their eyes, please—let's hear them!


Mindy McGinnis said...

Yeah. I know those moments. I'll be reading and think, "Really? *Really?*"

From experience as a librarian, it's not only writers who have this little alert button on the brain. My teen readers pick up on cheats pretty quick - and they will point it out!

A.M.Supinger said...

I had a moment like that yesterday, and it was bad enough that I had to put the book down and walk away. Ugh. Stupid monkey wrenches!

cherie said...

Great post! Will have to keep an eye out for that when writing.

Anonymous said...

Awesome reminder. This is a book killer for me--as well as many teens. Nobody likes being cheated.

One of the things I do--I'm a first-read-through tree killer--is take notes on the page opposite where these big revelations happen. IE: "Introduce knitting" in big letters. I'll go back to the spots I think will work and pen in a note on the margins. Then when I retype my manuscript, I plug them in. If I've done this successfully by the time I reach the big notation, I'll cross it off. If not, I'll add it to my list of other things to check/fix. These things get crossed off over subsequent revisions until the whole manuscript flows.

I've yet to write more than a second book in a series, so The Big Cheat hasn't been a problem yet, though I suspect it can be difficult to manage with each subsequent book.