As a reader, I’m often pulled out of the story by impossibility. And today, I’m not talking about the big things that make you close the book forever … or throw it across the room. I mean the little things, like having a character put bread in the toaster and three lines of dialogue later, she’s already buttering toast. Something like that is certainly not enough to make me put the book down, but it’s a reminder that I’m only reading. I’d rather stay immersed in the story, lost in the world the writer created. I want the writing to be transparent.
I’d like to say I’ve never written one of these little bugaboos, but since this post is non-fiction, I can’t. Because they are one of my pet peeves, though, I spend a lot of my writing time with my eyes closed. I like to visualize my character in action, so I can “see” that he’s still holding that tea kettle and therefore can’t pick up the cat with both hands.
I even spend a portion of it on my feet, speaking lines of dialogue as I cross the room to see at just what point I would reach for the doorknob. Sometimes I cheat a bit, I have the world’s slowest toaster—I could speak six pages of dialogue before my toast popped up—but I try to come close to realism.
Of course, it’s all right to expect the reader to assume some actions. If the character is driving somewhere, I don’t need a play-by-play of every turn of the steering wheel along the way. But I can’t ignore that your protagonist has just prepared lasagna from start to finish in the time it took to discuss the day’s weather. And I’ll roll my eyes if you describe a scene where a kid has just turned his iPod up to 11, but then overhears his parents having a conversation three rooms away.
Likewise, unless the book is fantasy, if the protagonist lives in Indianapolis and supports the local professional baseball team … well that’s sloppy research, and I just might send that book sailing across the room.