Plausibility

In the process of writing my thesis, I’ve been thinking a lot about plausibility. At first, the notion might seem rather simple—use your best judgment not to contrive ridiculous, fantastical scenarios and you’ll be just fine. But maybe that’s not quite it. I’ve heard some say that issues of believability are much more about failing human emotion than failing to capture reality. As in, no matter how surreal or bizarre a story is, if the characters you fill it with are dealing with things that can somehow resonate with the humanity of a reader, then plausibility should no longer be a concern. In my opinion, Miranda July and George Saunders are some of the best and most innovative negotiators of this policy.

Though I love this line of logic, what about us who are writing fiction that attempts to, more or less, actually resemble reality? Unfortunately, I think the level of scrutiny is, and has to be, higher. For example, in one of the short stories from my thesis, I’m working to somehow get a devoutly Baptist, sixty-year-old woman to enter a fortuneteller’s shop. The scene is crucial because it leads to an indispensable epiphany for her. That said, no matter how beautifully human this moment may be, how true the emotions I’m trying to portray are, if I don’t do an adequate job convincing the reader that my character would actually make the decision to visit a psychic in the first place, then there’s very little chance of my story succeeding.

What this ultimately displays, I suppose, is that no matter how grandiose and respectable our intentions are, we, as writers, must be scrupulously attentive to detail. The reader will not, and should not, be forgiving, even if they like the point we’re trying to make. In other words, we cannot prioritize the conceptual over the nitty-gritty.

—Daniel Grear, 2014-15 Aonian staff member

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