by C. Kevin Thompson
Have you ever read books that promised suspense, only to find they don’t deliver? Ever read a thriller that didn’t thrill? Ever read a romance between two people who never would get together in the real world? Ever wonder why this happens?
There are many reasons.
One of the most common causes resonated with me one day at a writers’ conference, drawing a line in the sand on what good fiction should look like.
What was it?
The subject of credibility.
What makes a story a good story? Regardless of the genre? It’s the credibility. Forget the character vs. plot argument for a moment. If your writing is so unbelievable it makes the reader laugh when they are supposed to be crying, or causes them to fall asleep when they should be sitting on the edge of their seat, then call Houston because you have a big problem.
This problem comes in two forms:
• Characters that aren’t real
• Hard to believe stories
The credibility of the characters is usually the first deal maker or breaker for a reader. Readers want to cheer for the hero, fall in love with the couple and hope they “get together,” or see the bad guy get his just desserts. However, if the characters aren’t believable, then it really doesn’t matter how great the plot is or how much action occurs. You can have the best story ever, but if the characters aren’t credible, the story falls flat.
I remember reading a manuscript that started with an airliner falling from the sky. Pretty exciting, right? The promise of suspense dripped from the first few pages. What ruined it? The unbelievable actions of the main characters. With the prospects of becoming a fireball imminent, they prayed…but not the kind of prayer you’re imagining. It was the kind of prayer you pray when you’re on your knees beside your bed at night…calm…pious…wordy…and extremely unbelievable for the circumstances at hand. All that was missing was the King James language and Gregorian Monks chanting in the background.
The flip side to this issue is the credibility of the story. The characters can be strong, but what happens when the story gets “out there in left field”? When I was writing The Serpent’s Grasp, I knew the credibility of the story was crucial. Writing about dinosaurs that still exist stretches this concept to the limit. I knew I had a great deal of research to back up my hypothesis, but I had to infuse it into the story to ramp up the credibility meter. When you do this, instead of the reader saying with a smirk, “That’s so bogus,” they say with a raised eyebrow, “Wow, this could actually happen.” That’s always a good thing.
Why is Marvel Comics making money hand-over-fist with all their movies? An alien who changes his clothes in a phone booth? A boy bitten by a spider? A wealthy man with a dark persona? Another rich guy with a flying suit? Incredible stories, right? Yes. And the credibility of the storylines coupled with believable characters keeps us buying popcorn and wishing we’d written it.
C. Kevin Thompson’s debut novel, The Serpent’s Grasp (OakTara, 2012), was the winner of the 2013 BRMCWC Selah Award (Fiction-First Novel category). His second novel, 30 Days Hath Revenge (OakTara, 2013), was the Silver Medalist in Readers’ Favorite 2013 Book of the Year for the Christian Fiction category.