Reality vs Fiction

Reality vs Fiction

It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of research. Oh, I’m good with google searches and research road trips, but when it comes to interviewing a person of authority and getting specific answers to specific questions, well, I tend to wimp out. Like Lorinda, our fantasy goddess, is always saying, “It’s fiction. Can’t we just make s**t up?”

Unfortunately, the answer is, “Not always.”

Turns out, I’ve finally figured out how to explain this to myself in a way that I can understand, so I’m going to attempt to share that wisdom with y’all, in the hopes that my convoluted logic might accidentally make sense to someone else.

As fiction writers, more specifically, romance fiction writers, it is our job to sell the farfetched to our readers. This covers everything from the mildly hard to swallow – like running a zig-zag pattern and avoiding being shot by six bad guys firing at once – to the impossible – a good-looking, well-endowed alpha hero with a rock-hard body and mushy, emotional center who’ll not only hold your purse in the mall and buy tampons but also clean the house and welcome your gay besties with open arms.

The key to convincing our readers to buy our outrageous ideas, no matter where they may fall on the no-way scale, is to frame our fiction in a world grounded in reality.

Let’s look at an example:

In my WIP, my heroine is arrested for a crime she didn’t commit, and for plot twist purposes and pacing, I want her bail hearing to happen the same day as her arrest so she doesn’t have to spend a night in jail, and I want her lawyer – the hero! – to be forced to pony up for her bail.

In reality, bail hearings are done after-hours with a single judge presiding over all pending cases in multiple jurisdictions via closed-circuit television. (You see this footage quite often on the evening news.) But in my story, since I’d done enough research to ensure my heroine’s arrest followed realistic police procedures, and since I’d already established my hero as a man with pull in the local legal community, I was able to fictionalize a tiny part of the arrest process in order to keep my story trucking along by having the hero pull strings and get her on “today’s docket” even though such a thing isn’t really real. This is an example of stretching the truth just a smidge.

For a bigger stretch, let’s look at the circumstances leading up to our hero having to personally post her bail. For the purposes of my plot, I invented an as-of-yet-unidentified-superbadguy who put the word out that he’d make life difficult on the poor sap that posted our dear sweet heroine’s bond. Viola! In order to keep her from spending the night in jail, our hero has to dig into his own (very deep) pockets and pay the bail himself. Now he’s even more vested in her case and she’s even more beholden to him.

A situation like this would never occur in reality. Number one, there’s like a gazillion bondsmen in Houston, so no way one dude, no matter how superbad, could control all of them. Number two, bondsmen are businessmen, and businessmen are in it for the money.

Good thing I’m writing fiction, right?

Even better thing, the road to this point in the story has been paved with realistic situations and timelines, so – hopefully – my reader is willing to give me a pass as I message reality.

That’s my answer to why research is necessary, but what happens when you add an element that can be supported with factual, real-life accounts, but that element doesn’t jive with accepted beliefs? Okay, I know what I’m trying to say, and that question confused even me!

Let me try it this way.

Going back to my WIP, the hero of book one and heroine of book two are step-siblings and their father is a preacher. Both characters (especially the sister) have a tendency towards salty language, and book two’s heroine is also a fashionista and, while in no way a slut, she’s had a handful of sexual relationships in her life. These are character traits that most people don’t find compatible/likeable with preacher’s kids because they go against type. BUT I have a good friend whose father is a preacher, and both my friend and his brother are hard drinkers, both smoked in their younger years and both had children out of wedlock. They are also both great guys who love and respect their father, but in no way do they fit the mold of preacher’s kids. They also represent first account research into what it’s like to be a preacher’s kid, and offer an alternative outcome to the norm.

So while I understand the need for research, what I’m struggling with is what to do when your research leads you down an out-of-the-ordinary path. Being out-of-the-ordinary, delivering something fresh and new to our readers, should also be a big part of doing our job well, but quite often, the publishing world shuns the new – while simultaneously begging for it.

Traditional wisdom says you can make a character do anything, as long as you motivate them properly, but I pose this question: What if your choices for your character go against stereotype and preordained thinking? Are you being groundbreaking or are you ostracizing potential readers? And does it matter?

I can see where I’d need to take these issues into consideration if I were pursuing traditional publishing, but isn’t the beauty of independent publishing that we don’t have to conform to traditional tropes? Or, am I shooting myself in the foot by being too different right out of the gate? It’s not like I have a built-in readership that’ll give me an auto buy and reserve judgement until the end of the story.

I guess it boils down to why an author chooses to make against-the-grain decisions.

Which means I’ve got to not only do some soul searching about my character’s choices but about mine as well.

Swell.

So what’s y’all’s take on an author who turns expected norms on their noses? Do they make you too uncomfortable to lose yourself in the story or do you become excited by reading a different take on an old favorite?

Dawn Temple

Back when her twin sons were young enough for daily naps, Dawn Temple took advantage of those quiet moments to pursue her dream of becoming a published romance writer. Sneaking in an hour here and there paid off in 2005 when she sold her first book, To Have And To Hold, to Silhouette Special Edition. She managed to secret away enough time to write and sell the second book in her Land’s Cross series, Moonlight And Mistletoe, but alas, her boys outgrew naps and Dawn let go of those stolen moments with her laptop to enjoy life with her two little guys and her big guy, hubby of 21 years.
But now, as an officially retired stay-at-home mom, Dawn has once again found the time and the creative drive to return to writing, and this time around, she’s set her sights on independent publishing. Her first self-published book, Peace of Heart, is scheduled for release in 2017.

4 thoughts on “Reality vs Fiction

  1. Okay, my knee-jerk reaction? Break the mold with proper motivation (of course) but make it in one area and in other areas the character conforms as is expected. As a reader of fantasy, where many, many things are not as we experience here on earth in this time, I am accustomed to people who break the mold, BUT they always, always have character traits that fill the conformity aspect to the letter. In other words you pepper in the breaking the mold stuff in among all the regular, expected stuff.
    Now, you just have to put that on paper in a compelling way that makes sense. Easy squeezy lemon peazy!

    1. Also, I think different “breaking the mold” characteristics will fly differently for different readers. For example, it doesn’t matter how wonderfully a hero is developed and presented, if he has a facial piercing, I’m personally going to have a lot of trouble falling for him, because I simply don’t find facial piercings attractive. I am, however, okay with tats (as long as they aren’t on the neck and fact), yet I’m sure there are tons of readers who’ll skip a book with a tatted hero or heroine, no matter how golden their hearts!

      So I guess it boils down to the old adage of not being able to please all the people. Knowingly breaking molds comes with the danger of knowingly losing some readers.

      1. But maybe picking up a few as well. I’ve always found that if I love my hero, there are bound to be a few other folks out there that will love him too. Go for it, chickadee.

  2. That old adage, you have to know rules to break the rules – comes to mind when reading this post. I think as long as we don’t interrupt the suspension of disbelief – which requires seamlessly breaking those rules – we can break all the rules we want – but, when its something that makes a reader stop and say – no way, that would never happen – we’ve failed to lay the proper ground work for breaking a rule. Take for instance a book I recently read by Diane Kelly about an IRS investigator – in book one, she has attacked by a tax cheater with a box cutter (it rang my disbelief meter, but not so much I stopped reading) then later in the same book, she is shot at by a different tax cheater. I my opinion, that is totally unrealistic – BUT – I downloaded and am currently reading Book 2 of the series because she managed to give me enough grounding in reality, that even though I ‘know’ it’s highly unrealistic, I’m still enjoying the story. So, that’s my take on it, for what its worth.

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