For Story Believability, Set Up Particulars in Advance

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Have you ever raised your eyebrows at something like this? In a contemporary romance, an accountan grabs an épée from a castle wall and fights expertly with the castle owner. Smaller events then that can cause readers to shake their heads or confuse them. 

Set up an event, the use of a prop, or a special ability in advance.

I had to make the lack of cell service clear in The Invisible Woman in a Red Dress. Today, people tend to think cell service is everywhere in the continental U.S. Where I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains between two small cities, this is not true. Some people in my community have cell service in their home, or at least in one room. I have no cell service inside my house. And only one carrier’s service works in my yard. 

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So when Candace came to Twisty Creek, a fictional community in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I had to make it clear to readers that her Richmond, VA, AT&T service would not work there. I’d mentioned the cell problem early in the story, but my editor questioned later in the story why Candace couldn’t use her cell inside her grandmother’s house. So I had to go back and make the cell situation explicitly clear.

Local readers of The Invisible Woman in a Red Dresswould have had no suspension of belief. However, it took my husband and I awhile to get our children to stop texting us. We didn’t get their texts until days later when we shopped in a nearby small city.

Setups you create must be realistic.

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In book two of the Twisty Creek series, The Identical Woman in a Black Dress, I created a setup early in the story concerning Trace’s rifle. I put his rifle in the window rack in the back of his truck. He would need it there later.

My husband is a beta reader. He questioned the legality of having the exposed rifle in the truck when Trace and Lattice go inside a restaurant and a store. We looked up the situation for Virginia. Our research was clear. My setup might be legal, but an exposed rifle in a truck cab while the. owner is in business building isn’t smart or realistic.

I created an alternate, more believable setup, which worked as well as the one in my draft.

Enlist or hire beta readers, critique partners, and/or a professional editor.

Note in both cases above my setup corrections were made in my drafts. At least an editor and my husband read through my final drafts. I could have lost readers if the insufficient or unbelievable setups had made it into my books.

What event, prop, or ability in a story suspended your belief?

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

You Should Rethink the Coincidences in Your Stories

“Coincidence cannot replace motivation.” — Debra Dixon

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at

I’ve been reading Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Her discussion about coincidences spoke to me.

I wanted a scene between my hero and his widowed sister-in-law, the heroine, concerning an ugly secret they share. Their low opinions of each other cause them to avoid each other’s company.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

1.  A solution: At an apartment complex, the heroine hears bad news regarding the secret. The hero drives by and sees her exit. He stops to talk to her, which irks her.

2.  Why it doesn’t work. Ms. Dixon might say something like this: “The reader will roll her eyes, Zoe. She’ll want to know why the hero stops to talk to the heroine when you’ve already shown he’s uncomfortable around her and glad he’ll never have to help her again. He’d more likely pretend he didn’t see her.”

 The hero has no motivation, no good reason, to stop and talk to her.

3.  The needed stake. Fortunately, I developed a prior scene between the hero and his mother. He mentions he’s glad God’s one-time call for him to help his sister-in-law is over. His mother is upset the heroine has been distancing herself from the family. She thinks her son is God’s answer to draw the heroine back. She implores the hero to befriend the heroine.

The hero loves his mother and dislikes her being upset, and him feeling guilty. So, he’s motivated to contact the heroine. 

Image courtesy of stockimages at
Image courtesy of stockimages at

4.  A more satisfying solution. The hero knows if he calls his sister-in-law she’ll invent an excuse to avoid him. So, he’s motivated to drop in on the heroine. But he sees her car leaving the parking lot. He doesn’t want to disappoint his mother when she asks again if he’s befriended the heroine. So, he’s motivated to follow her. At an apartment complex, she enters before he can reach her. He decides to wait awhile for her to exit. He’ll ask her to dinner, and if she declines, he can tell his mother he honestly tried.

This solution gives the hero a reason to meet the heroine at the complex.

5.  Why Motivation helps tension. If the two bumped into each other, the heroine would have little reason to think he’s trying to make her life miserable.

In the first solution above, the heroine and the reader would be baffled that he stopped to talk to the heroine without a good reason.

The more satisfying solution supplies tension and growth:

Image courtesy of photostock at
Image courtesy of photostock at

When the heroine appears distressed as she exits the apartment, sympathy forms in him. She’s surprised with his presence. She declines dinner and demands why he’s there. With her attitude, his sympathy wanes. He privately blames his mother for getting him into this situation. Frustrated, he blurts his promise to his mother. This, the bad news she received inside the apartment, and her need to tell someone causes her to weep. Pricked by guilt at his selfishness, he realizes his mother is right. The heroine needs a friend. They talk.


Ms. Dixon teaches more about different kinds of coincidences. I recommend her book.

Why coincidences hurt your story and how to fix them. Click to tweet.

 What kinds of coincidences in a book bother you?

Calculated Risk by Zoe M. McCarthyApril 9-10 enter a chance to win Calculated Risk on author Sharon Srock’s blog.