My first editor, back before I switched genres, gave me some advice about believability issues in my manuscript that I’ll never forget. Now, this advice was passed down to her from a mentor and then down to me, but despite the game of telephone, it still makes a heck of a lot of sense.
When I received my edit letter from the lovely Heather Ezell (who I highly recommend for all your YA editing needs), I saw a familiar comment that I’d been getting from some of my critique partners. A few of my situations weren’t believable. She didn’t believe that my scenes could play out in real life the way I’d written them, wasn’t buying it. I chewed on this criticism, and told her I wasn’t sure what to do, because the events in question actually had played out in a similar way for me in real life.
To paraphrase her thoughtful reply, she wasn’t saying that the situations could never happen, but that within the confines of the context/story and the portrayal of the events/characters, she didn’t believe it yet. She said it’s more about reframing, giving the reader the means to believe.
And that hit me like a light bulb to the thought bubble.
Let’s take the Jack and Jill example, because it’s something simple enough to workshop in a blog post. We’ve all heard this nursery rhyme innumerable times, but let’s pretend we haven’t. When you read the next paragraph, pull on your critique hat and try to find, if anything, what sticks out for you as not yet believable given the confines of the narrative.
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.
To me, I’m not convinced that Jill is as clumsy as Jack. What caused her to fall? Given a teensy bit of additional context, the story will make more sense. (Yes, I realize I’m a terrible poet.)
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and because Jill tried to grab his hand, and she slipped too, she came tumbling after.
(We learn that Jill is prone to fainting in a prior verse.) Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and at the sight of it, Jill swooned, came tumbling after.
There you have it. The next time an editor or critique partner or beta reader says, “I’m not buying it,” before you scrap the scene altogether, try to determine if what you need is to set the scene up with a little more context.
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.