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.

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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