Betwixt and Between

AnotherRoadSignRecently, I was given a nudge down my “how to improve” writing road journey, while thinking about my most recent book club selection discussion. I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned how much I like—and have learned from my local monthly book club. Indeed, without the diversity of selections members put on our list, there are so many books and authors I would have regretfully never read. So first off, let me say again, I love book club!

For example, our August book selection was Catalyst, written by the highly acclaimed and award winning Science Fiction/Fantasy author Anne McCaffrey, this offering written with Elizabeth Ann Scarborough[i]. Great writers, but in a genre which is not my forte—which I’ve proclaimed on several past occasions. Thank goodness for members who ignore me and push us all outside our reading cocoons. Indeed, I’ve self-indulgently proclaimed on more than one occasion about the genre, “Not what I like. Not real.” 

On my way home from our meeting, I had one of those “good-grief” moments that astound me at my own silly thinking and categorizing. I write fiction. Duh, questioningmannot Real! Mystery fiction writers ask readers to accept people, places, events, etc.—all that often aren’t real—though sometimes based on real events and situated in real places.

From there, I headed down the “how real should our fiction be?” path. Sounds silly, but what I mean is the importance of having the right “reality balance” to our commercial fiction—mysteries in particular. I’ve talked before about closing books without reading because the characters don’t grab me, or I dislike them, which sorry to say, I seem to be doing more of. But, does the reality-balance also have something to do with my lack of story engagement?

Some thoughts:

    • For sure, for me in particular, I want readers to be able to visualize a non-existent-unreal town of Shiné as a real place. Store fronts, roads, places of business, even a castle. If they actually visualize an unreal alien world they can’t go to, will they want to mentally be there, or visit again? Indeed, I want them to escape from the reality of their habitat to a neat identifiable place they’d like to visit, but different from where they are—at least for a couple hours. But not as far as a different planet or world?
    • Are the characters real? Certainly not. But real enough for a reader to visualize a real person they can piece together, and at the same time find the character different or eccentric enough to find interesting? Normal enough to be real, but not too normal as to be alien, or worse, unlikable. Another balancing act.
    • Scenery? Can they see a real place in their mind’s eye? In my writing case, the Mojave Desert does exist. But Shiné? No. But can a reader imagine a place “like” this possibly existing in the real world?
    • And here’s a hard one. Are the events real? Especially with some of the mystery writing conceits in use. Of course not, ask any policeman(and I’ve asked several–thank you my PSWA friends and San Bernardino County Sheriffs). Indeed, we’ve got the reality in our own lives of actual bad guys and victims. The balance here is of not trivializing real crime and horror, but at the same time offering escapism with characters being killed and justice of some kind happening. Hmm…
    • And here’s another tricky one, is it a realistic story? Again, of course not. The goal is larger than life adventures, with larger than life characters, with larger than life attributes—and minimal flaws. Not reality for sure.
    • Is the conclusion realistic? And on this one, not a dilemma or quandary for me at all. No. It’s what I want to happen. Reality doesn’t matter. That being said, sometimes an author has hit the mark on all the previous points, and I’ve gotten to the end and said, bah humbug!(smile)

Agatha Christie, I think, was a genius when it comes to snatching a reader into sometimes outlandish unreal situations, with larger than life characters when it comes to abilities, and posit some implausible situations and happenings—but leaving me thinking these people, places, and events actually happened. Easily suspending my disbelief while reading. Her non-reality was/still is[ii] for me very real.

Still pondering, but thinking “real” fiction writing of any kind, is a balancing act for sure. My take away from these meanderings? For me—more carefulness when it comes to reality-balancing, when developing all my characters, places, situations, and conclusions. And maybe read more Scifi(smile).



Happy Writing and Reading Trails!

[i] More about Catalyst and Anne McCaffrey here on Amazon

[ii] I re-watch Poirot mysteries on DVDs all the time (with David Suchet).

17 thoughts on “Betwixt and Between”

  1. What a great post! I love the tips because I have just joined my local library’s book club – first-timer – and am reading the selected book. Very, very, very woke. I checked the club’s previous book list and have to admit very few appealed to me, but with your insights I will give all future books a chance. I particularly like your ‘reality’ checkpoints. Gives me an idea for my next post for us Rezzers.
    PS. Is woke a real word now or should it be in quotes????

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh Jill, so glad you got a post idea from my meanderings…so often I think I’m just “jabbering”(and is that a real word, too?) It’s hard sometimes to go ahead and read some books I don’t think will appeal to me, but it has opened my mind a lot in learning about a lot of really good writers out there that aren’t in my favored “genres.” Ha, I put quotes around everything (wrongly sometimes I’m sure), but quotes for me make a “special” word. Hmmmm

    Thanks so much for stopping by so early with such kind words and thoughts! I’m hoping you will love your book club.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m still not much of a sci-fi enthusiast. Lately I’ve been reading fiction written about the 2nd WW. Not sure why, but I’ve been enjoying the step back into a past that I remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Marilyn. No matter what I read, my literary heart returns to mysteries. I was born right at the end of WWII, and have been watching TV shows (history kind of ones) that talk about and show images from WWII, and it reminds me over and over with a big slaps in the face how lucky I am, and soooooo grateful to so many for so much. However, I’ve never been able to write historical reality about those days.


  4. I love this post! How fictional should fiction be? Hey, we do write fiction and want our readers to enjoy it, so how real it is can vary. Thanks for heading my mind in this direction!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, Linda, how wonderful you’re heading down the same writing-path thoughts! And thank you for your kind words, sometimes, as I said to, Jill, I wonder if my meanderings have anything end them. Or should I say , any reality(smile)


  5. Aristotle said in The Poetics that there are Five Basic Elements to fiction: Plot, Character, Setting, Dialogue, and the Meaning behind the Story. All of those things create a world, first in the author’s head, and then hopefully in the reader’s imagination. But it is that balancing act that makes or breaks a story. If the writer only partially develops some of those points the story will come crashing down. And the last sound heard will be the book slamming shut as the reader goes on to another book. As usual, Mad, great thoughts about what’s needed to keep the story flying up there without a net.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love your sentence, “And the last sound heard will be the books slamming shut as the reader goes on to another book.” And of course Aristotle is so right-on. And now that I’m still pondering on this topic and how reality can bring those five basic elements together into a story a reader will enjoy, you’ve inspired me to go off to some afternoon writing! (I usually write in the morning) Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, Madeline! I read fiction (mysteries) to escape to another place where I can immerse myself in the lives and problems of others and forget about reality while I read. I need the books I read to have believable plots and characters but, to be honest, I don’t want too much reality. For that, I can watch the news.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You can say that again, Patricia–for reality I can watch the news! Thanks for stopping by. I’m with you on the escapism part. Storyville is one of my great places to escape too…


  7. I’d never really thought of reality in fiction as being a question. Of course fiction stories are made up, but they can be made to “feel” real. Often Historical Fiction can be that way if the author has done a lot of research. And especially if the made up part is around a real incident or person in history.
    When I’m reading a book, it is real to me at that time. I “suspend belief” if you will. The people, places, vehicles, electronics, etc, are real to the time of the plot.
    But I know what you mean about fantasy and sci-fi. Dragons, fairies, phantoms, unicorns, zombies, bionic people, exterrestrials, etc are
    REALLY not real. You can still enjoy them, but on a different plane. Like watching a fun cartoon with a grandchild.
    Oh, but I wax on…. Thanks Madeline for making us think so much!! haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you, Jackie, I never really thought about reality in connection to fiction–until I actually listened to what I’d said at book club. I think you bring in a significant element into the “real” idea, and that is of “time.” Real at the time…hmmm…wax on(smile)


  8. To paraphrase Mark Twain, nonfiction must be true even if it isn’t believable, and fiction must be believable even if it isn’t true. Any world we read about will feel real if it’s believable. In skilled hands, that can be other cities, other times or other planets. As for genres, I have my preferences but I’ll read anything well-written.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Perfect quote(paraphrase), Miko! And on the mark. I think reading broadly if it’s well-written is an admired ability and means you don’t miss any good tales.


  9. Hmmm. Very interesting post, Mad! Unless I am doing research, I read to escape reality. I don’t want realism in my escapist reading! And as for Book Clubs – such a great idea. But one I’ve never had the time to investigate. Although I’ve an idea to create the Woman’s Club Book Club with a focus on books about Hollywood’s Golden Era and Hollywood History… when I have the time…. Thanks, Mad!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a great idea, Rosie, to have a book club with a Hollywood focus! We’ve read several books about movie stars, I particularly remember one about Raymond Burr, and one about Marilyn Monroe. Yes, my fiction is for escapism, too. But other planets still require a mental adjustment for me.


  10. Hello, Marsie, and thanks for stopping by! Glad you found these comments helpful. If you’re new to our website, several authors here have posted on characters with excellent thoughts and advice. Look around at the posts here, and I’m guessing you’ll get a log of good information. Characters–so important to your novel, and glad your focusing on developing good ones!

    For me personally, all I know is my characters come from various parts of my brain, and are a mix of people I’ve met, people I’ve liked, disliked, and probably some pieces of me. The important thing in my mind, is that the reader can “grab” onto the character, and be interested in what they do and what happens to them. And if unlikable, a quick book closure. Hopefully you will find more posts here that can help you in your writing journey! I’ve done some expounding on the topic several time myself–for characters and scenery, I think are crucial. Much success…and stop by often if so inclined. We love having comments and visitor discussion.


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