Some dead French guy once said something along the lines of, "A writer tells lies to reveal the truth."
Or if he didn't, he should have. Cause that's what we do: we make stuff up, left, right and center. But the stuff we make up has to ring true to hold up our end of the story contract. For her part, the reader agrees to put aside some skepticism to play make-believe with us.
Until we drop the ball.
I'm not talking about the obvious suspects:
Info-dumps ("As you know, Bob, these caves are rumoured to have been...")
Eye-crossingly bad dialogue ("If you dare to move I will shoot you," he threatened menacingly.)
Hackneyed story tropes (A needlessly complicated serial killer makes fiendish puzzles out of his victims, and a moping vampire crimefighter needs to stop him before the innocent love interest is next. Yawn.)
Those are all style problems, and bad style can be unlearned. I'm thinking today of those times we tell the reader the wrong lies and knock them out of the story. CS Harris did a couple of great posts on man-stuff and women-stuff that strains story credibility.
Or on Killer Year, Sean Chercover put up this post on fictional firearms gaffs. My personal pet peeve is the hero giving us the make and model of the gun the bad guy's pointing at him. I've had guns pointed at me, and never once did I think, "Why, that's a Colt Python .357 Magnum," or "Hmm, now is that pistol a Berreta or a Sig Sauer? Sigs have that slim line, but I think it's the Berreta has that particular butterfly safety."
Or whatever. To be honest, I can't remember what the hell I ever thought in those moments. I'll buy James Bond or Jack Reacher being disinterested enough to think about these things. The rest of us? Not so much.
It goes back to the writer's sense of the world, and of people. When it differs too much from the reader's, the reader is knocked out of the story. Naked women admiring themselves in the mirror, men commenting on their own chiseled jaws and sensuous mouths, teenagers who talk like the Scooby Doo gang, all are at odds with life as I know it. And probably the reader, too.
It's not always the writer's fault, either. I rented the first season of The Wire recently. I was riveted. The Dynamo watched maybe five or ten minutes before pronouncing it unbelievable. "Those kids dealing drugs, why aren't they in school? And nobody curses that much, especially not cops."
Widely different experiences of the world. I lent the DVDs to another Kiwi who *loves* The Sopranos. He brought it back the next day. His comment?
"People in the US don't really curse that much, do they?"
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