be realistic

This post is in continuation of erica's (enlightening!) post from Tuesday, or maybe it's just my take on it.  She posted on writing about what she knows, or at least finding inspiration from her real life...and then twisting it to let her novels take on their own life (completely unrecognizable from where the ideas came from). 

Or something like that.

I wouldn't write if I could only write from my blessed, but boring existence.  Living vicariously through my characters is the whole point.  Well, maybe not the whooooole point.

However, I often wonder what "reality" is missing from my manuscript(s). If what I'm writing is completely fabricated (for example, I'm 34 writing from the POV of a 15 year old or 17 year old), I worry the "believability" (of teen life) is missing.  I'm aware this is a major issue for many of us YA writers who are not teens by birthdate (regardless of our claims of being young at heart and/or perpetual teenagers) and that many agents search extra hard for adult writers with a genuine teen voice.  Granted, I was once a teenage girl, however, my memories of being one are now glimpsed through my 34 year old hindsight.

So, the thoughts streaming through my MC's head need to be (believable) thoughts a "real" teen might think in whatever situation I place them in. 

Kiersten White wrote a post a while ago sticking up for Evie from Paranormalcy (in response to someone discussing protags liking "girly" things (if my memory is working correctly).  Kiersten said she remembered being a teen and thinking about boys, boys and more boys.

And, sure, I might have, too.  Thought about boys a lot, I mean.  And about friend issues.  And about homework issues.  (Again, had I chosen to write from my own life, the novel would have put anyone to sleep in four seconds flat.) 

BUT, how can I know for sure that my character will still think about boys and friends and homework in the midst of running from a haunting blue creature in search of her great-grandma's long lost journal?  How do I know that she would take time out to fall in love with the unnerving boy from her French class while also trying to figure out why she has a pearly aura surrounding her body?  How many times per page can I mention her heart rate, nervous stomach, sweaty palms and shortness of breath?  And isn't it just great that she finished all her homework before transporting to another dimension for the first time?

How do you add reality to the unreality of your fiction novel?  (HEHE.  Just kidding.)



  1. Interesting subject, just reading Sebastian Faulkes on this, very interesting and lots to think about.

  2. How do you know? Because it's your character, that's how. You know how she is going to react and feel, you just have to present it in a way that doesn't jar the reader out of their suspension of disbelief.

  3. I'm sure I didn't make it up, but I have no idea where I got it, but in my creative writing class, I always tell my students that readers will believe (or be willing ot suspend belief) for just about anything (talking unicorns, magical marshmallows, etc.) so long as you keep the small details realistic.

  4. I think what makes a situation realistic are the reactions. If a main character has never seen a unicorn before, then s/he will be pretty surprised to have one gallop over, and I imagine what my face would look like and then I describe that. For example.

  5. So true.... I'm 22 but I can't always remember my worries as a child.

    And even then... I was a freak... So my imagination has to go do a lot of stretching..

    My approach is to characterize deeply and then classify them as people rather than (say) teens.

    E.g. how does a person with commitment issues react to one with daddy issues?

    Only a lot more complex.


  6. I remember thinking about boys a lot. Probably more than I thought about my homework. I was really shy, so I'd dream about the day one would see past that.

    My mcs think about guys too. Maybe not obsessively. They've got other problems. But it's still part of being a teen.

    I think the big thing is read a lot, watched and talk to teens, read their magazines, watch their movies (and TV shows). And if you're really supposed to write YA, then the believeability will come.

    I'm soon going to work on a romantic suspense. Only problem is I'm not sure I can make my 30 ish character believeable. Go figure, huh?

  7. That's a great question, and nearly as hard to answer as it is to acheive. I think connecting our readers to great characters is what makes the unbelievable believable.

  8. Hey, what if she DIDN'T finish her homework before transporting to another dimension for the first time? If she's a responsible girl, which I'm guessing she is, she's not going to be able to help worrying about her homework in the midst of this mind-blowing experience. How would she react to not being able to not think about it? Self-disgust? Roll her eyes and get on with something magical? Work out the homework in detail in her mind so she can at least learn the lesson even if she doesn't get it turned in? Crisis brings out character. I like what Mike Wood said, too--'keep the small details realistic,' and readers will buy the rest.

  9. I HAVE a teen. I promise they are still thinking about boys and friend problems. The mechanisms have changed. Texting, facebook... the whole world knows their business instantly. Anyone not on is out of the loop. Homework is a lot more serious thing than it was in my day (I remember having math most nights and not much else--my kids--even the 12 year old, have homework most nights and it sometimes takes hours). I don't think the emotions of teens have changed that much from my time and I'm a decade older than you.

  10. Plus, just like adults, kids are individuals. Sure there's some big-picture generalizations (obsessing over boys, etc.), but there's also enough wiggle room to make your character unique.

    For example, my nephews, ages 18 and 17, both have a steady stream of girls they go out with. The older one would get his homework done before going to another dimension. The younger one wouldn't do his homework even if the only place he had to go was back to school. :)

  11. Great question, Christy.

    Remember, people are people. A teenager now has the same thoughts as when you were a teen. Human nature is the same. SEX is on every teens mind and it clouds logical thinking. Hormones are running ramped.

    We all have inner teens. My last two works i wrote with a seventeen-year-old pov and a 28 pov. Ages long gone for me. BUT I can still remember the pangs of those ages. SO much going on in your life. So many people coming and going and falling in and out of love with each breath. How your heart and everything else aches for a person at that split second of time. Emotions are emotions.

    You can feel them, you can write them, as long as they are real.


  12. The 35 year old me with the terrible memory wonders if I was ever a teen. ;) But I read enough YA to know that I can relate to a teen voice, so a lot of the issues and feelings are universal. On the flip side, when I was a teen, I read a lot of adult realistic fiction and could relate to an adult voice as well. Most YA writers are not teens, so there is hope that we can tap into universal human truths, experiences, and feelings. :)

    I tend not to write what I live. My life is crazy. I have experienced divorce, tragedy, a house burning down, car accidents, stolen identity, mental illness in the family - you name it, lots of writing fodder, but to be honest, I think writing about many of those things would be hurtful to people I love, so I steer clear of most of my own life experiences and branch out into different things.

    My current WiP takes place on a farm, and though I am surrounded by farms where I live now, I grew up a city kid and don't know much about farm life. I research and study and have visited farms. The research I print out has helped me tremendously, mainly in very tiny details that are not all key to the story, but it's those details that get thrown into the setting or tiny plot points that make the story more believable and realistic in a setting that is not my natural habitat. :) I hope.

    In completely different news, I got an awesome package in the mail yesterday! Thanks to both of you so much for the adorable mug! It makes me laugh and now I am totally a serious author. Cause my mug says so. :)

  13. Part of that came out a little wrong - I have not been divorced but experienced my parents' divorce when I was a preteen, so I relate to that situation more in the teen sense than in the adult sense of going through it myself. If that makes sense...

  14. Something I discussed with an instructor last semester was the loneliness & despair of the teen years-- because they are old enough to have sharp emotions, but not only enough to be able to keep them in check. And they are old enough to know that the world is so unfair, but don't yet realise that everyone else feels the same way. It's the "this sucks and nobody has ever felt like this" that's the worst. And while I definitely thought about boys and regularly had the giggles and whatever else, it's those moments of thinking that no one in the universe knew what I was going through that still stick out to me. (Of course, now I can think about it and giggle, but I do remember the feeling very vividly!)

    Gosh, what a bummer this comment turned out to be.


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