I talked about making the characters in fiction real, but how real are the plot and the story?
A little bit of everything
When was the last time in life you only had one thing going on at a time? In my life, I feel like I am constantly bombarded with something new before I have even addressed previous issues. I never have a moment where there is only one thing I have to worry about. Likewise, in a book, the characters need to have more business in their lives than only the primary conflict of the story. While the book may not give any details for those other events, the events themselves need to be there. Also, while the plot itself can only cover certain aspects of the action, the overall story needs to include virtually every emotion or type of story (comedy, adventure, romance, coming of age, tragedy, redemption, etc.).
I am not able to control everything that happens around me. There are often fortunate (or unfortunate) occurrences that significantly change the way my life is feeling. The same should also hold for characters in a book. Not everything that happens to them (or even that furthers the plot) should be in their control. It may be some other character, divine providence, or just blind luck.
Another consideration is that the physics of the world need to be realistic. The rules can be exaggerated or changed (for instance to include some form of magic), but must be consistent throughout the story. The best explanation I have seen of this point is Sanderson’s First Law, which essentially states that the larger a role magic has in solving problems in the plot, the better it needs to be understood.
Here is one of my personal pet peeves. Characters are introduced at the beginning of the story, and for most of the book, readers are shown the characters’ flaws. However, at the moment of the climax, or immediately after it, those flaws seem to have disappeared. Now clearly, it takes time for a person’s character to change, and it will almost always happen gradually. A very similar situation exists for virtually every major plot point as well. It takes time to do most things.
Note that this does not necessarily refer to the storytelling itself. The pacing of the story is one of the tools in an author’s arsenal to maintain reader interest. I have found, however, that my interest is captured by an unpredictable plot better than nonstop action. Also, the climax is not the end of the story. I find that I am more annoyed than intrigued when a book is go-go-go-go-go-and done! I want to actually see some of the resolution.
More than meets the eye…
A good book should feel like a window looking into a new world. It should give a glimpse of what is there, but the best books also give a feeling that there is so much more just out of sight.