Keeping things realistic in your novel

This post is the twenty-first in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

You are watching an action movie, and during the fight scene, the two sides shoot and shoot and shoot some more. And while you are engrossed in the action, somewhere in the back of your mind you are wondering “Shouldn’t they run out of bullets or at least need to reload?”

Just like watching that action scene momentarily jars you out of the story, many things in your novel can have the same effect on your reader. And there is nothing worse than reading and enjoying a book when you come across something that pulls you out of the story.

I’m going to give some examples. Many of them are based on fantasy writing situations but hopefully you can correlate them to something in your novel that you need to make sure is believable.

Magic

Magic use to be prevalent only in fantasy novels but more and more, magic shows up in other genres, including romance and suspense.  Magic can certainly enhance a story, but you need to make sure it is believable. You need to clearly define (at least to yourself) what can and cannot be done with magic. There must be limits on magic otherwise the person using magic would always win and there would be no conflict in your story. Magic cannot be the answer to everything. Or as Rumpelstiltskin in ABC’s Once Upon a Time said, “All magic comes with a price.”

There are countless ways to limit magic: power is drawn from magical lines through the ground, and if you aren’t near one then you have no magic; magic is based on knowing spells, so you are limited by your knowledge; magic makes a sound other sorcerers can hear and thus can find you, and the list goes on and on. Decide which rules you want to use and then make sure you stick to them in your story.

Food

In a fantasy world, food is one area that can pull readers out of the story – or at least those readers paying attention.

Yes, this may be another world or time period. And, yes, food choices and eating habits may be different there. But everyone is familiar with food, so you should at least have the food choices make sense. Writers of fantasy novels too often ask us to believe that a roadside meal is cooked in the time it takes to water the horses or set up camp or that fresh fruit is available at all times – even the winter.

A quick search on the internet could spare these mistakes. Take rabbit stew for instance. A quick look reveals that in a modern kitchen, it takes two hours to cook and that doesn’t include prep time. So this isn’t practical for a roadside meal – or at least not a quick one. As with any camping trip, authors need to consider how all the supplies – food, tents, weapons, clothing – are going to be hauled. A lot fits in a car but you can carry less in your saddle bag.

Eating is such a big part of life that you can’t ignore it in your novel. Of course, you need not focus on it unless it advances the plot somehow such as a grain shortage. But do take the time to learn something about some of the foods that you mention so that you don’t jar the reader out of the story with something improbable.

Travel

Another thing I see in many novels is how fast it takes someone to get somewhere. Here again you need to be practical. You don’t want to have your character fly across the country in just four hours when it takes at least seven on a commercial airliner or travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours when it takes six. People in New York will know how long it takes to get across town and will be surprised if your character does it super-fast. And with fantasy writing if your characters are walking long distances, riding a horse to another city, or traveling by wagon, please research how long this will take. (For more you can check out this post.) https://wp.me/p2Dhbj-Dq

Details

To me it is a lot of the things that jar me out the story are part of the little details.

In one book I recently read, a woman won a lot of money. She spent quite a bit of it but supposedly still had millions to invest. I kept thinking that the numbers didn’t work out especially after she bought a large house and paid cash for it.

But it can also be something as simple as wearing a blue shirt one moment and a red one the next. Or have a character join a conversation when they are supposed to be elsewhere.

Being consistent with your details, whether they are about magic, food, travel or what someone is wearing is very important in allowing your reader to be immersed in your make-believe world. And when it comes to areas that you aren’t knowledgeable about (perhaps traveling a long distance on a horse), then make sure you do the research, so you can accurately portray the scene in your novel and not jar your reader out of the story with something as ridiculous as a gun that never runs out of bullets.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

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Killing a Character in your Novel

This post is the twentieth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

No matter what type of novel you are writing – thriller, mystery, romance – there may come a time when you need to kill off one or more of your characters. From serial killers to mysterious deaths to killing out of jealousy or survival, murder or death can add to the conflict of your story. And what better way to have your antagonist instill fear than to kill off a few people. Or it could be your protagonist doing the killing to preserve his or her life or that of a loved one.

But no matter who is doing the killing, you still must follow the rules. As with any character action, there needs to be a reason behind it. No one – not even serial killers – kill without a reason. It may not be an obvious reason such as self defense but even mass murderers have a reason for what they do. It is not “just because” or because they are “evil.”

And if they are going to kill off a character in your story, you need to make sure there is a good reason for the character to die. It could be to advance the plot, spurring your protagonist into motion. Or it could be to add realism. No one expects to read a war drama without anyone dying. But it just shouldn’t be because of “shock” value or you need something to happen.

Now killing off a character you have spent time developing can be hard. It can be equally hard for readers when a favorite character dies.

It is much easier to kill off a minor character. Many times, you and the reader are not as attached to them. I always think of a minor character as the first person killed in a horror movie. They are not usually well developed. No one has had a chance to really get to know and like this character before they die. Because readers can spot these insignificant expendable characters I don’t encourage you to add characters just for the purposes of killing them off.

Now killing off a minor character might be easy, but it is something entirely different to kill a main character. Remember, you shouldn’t kill a character just because you or someone else thinks you should. You should only kill off a character if it will advance the story. This could mean that this person’s death contributes to the development of another character or advances the plot in some way. Don’t do this on a whim. Make sure you think of the consequence losing a main character will do to your story and the remaining characters and make sure the cost is worth it.

If you are willing to kill off main characters, you can have your readers expecting the unexpected. They will know that everyone is at risk and that can add tension to your story.

So don’t be afraid to kill of a character but make sure you are doing it for the right reason – to advance your story.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

A Golden Anniversary for my Parents

This Friday, December 22, will mark my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Wow! Fifty Years. That is impressive.

This means they have beaten the odds of death and divorce. Of all the current marriages in the United States, only 7 percent have reached the 50-year mark, according census statistics. In case you are wondering, only 35% of marriages will reach the 25-year mark (which my husband and I will hit in 2 ½ years). Heck, currently 40 to 50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce, so making it to fifty years is something special.

The most remarkable thing about this anniversary for my parents is that this marriage has lasted so long when they only knew each other for a few short months before getting married.

My parents met in Florida in October of 1968. Three months later, just three days before Christmas, they got married. They promptly moved to Utah thanks to the Air Force.

My Dad served in the U.S. Air Force from 1955 to 1985. Seventeen of those years were while he was married to my mom. Because the military likes to move people around often, this meant they moved every few years. They were stationed in Utah, New Hampshire, Japan, Hawaii, California and Nebraska before he retired.

During that time, they were away from friends and family, and they began their own family. My brother David was born 14 months after they were married. In October of 1970, my brother Jason was born, and finally I was born in 1972.

Over the years, there were tough times – the death of my brother Jason at 7 months old, the stress of constantly moving or my dad being gone with very little – or even no – notice, they survived cancer (my dad thyroid and prostate cancer and my mom skin cancer) and my mom having a large benign tumor being removed from her head. And of course, raising kids provides its own challenges. I’ll say I bet my brother was harder and caused way more headaches than I did.

And of course, there were good times – seeing their kids graduate from high school, their daughter graduating from college and getting married, the birth of their four grandchildren (two from each of us) and many happy holidays, trips and vacations.

I am sure it has been a full, busy fifty years. And even with them both retired now, they are always busy with something. There is no slowing them down. But hopefully, they take some time this Friday to spend with each other and reflect on how much has happened these past fifty years, focusing and cherishing those good times.

Featured Author recap of Romance Authors

Here is is December, and I don’t have an author scheduled for today so I am highlighting three past authors featured on my website that write romance novels.

(If you are an author and would like too be featured, I have openings in December, January and beyond. Click here for more information.)

 

Jo Carey

Her book, Winter, the first in her Seasons de Santa Fe series, came out in July. You can check out her interview here.

Tracee Lydia Garner

Her latest book, Deadly Affections, came out in March. You can check out her interview here.

 

 

Marie Lavender

She released her book, Upon Your Love, the third book in her Heiresses in Love series, in February. Please enjoy an excerpt by clicking here.

 

I hope you check out these authors. And if you are an author who wants to be featured, contact me!