Years ago, I had one of those supervisors you tend to loathe. A real Type-A personality. And we all know what the A represents. Even so, there was one thing he said that has stuck with me ever since:
"Credibility is king."
Don't you just hate it when somebody you can hardly stand comes up with a real gem? Kind of gnaws at you, doesn't it?
What that supervisor said, though, applies to everything in life. Consider the politician who overstates his record and then is called on it. People who might have voted for him suddenly change their vote. Or consider the preacher who secretly had an inappropriate relationship and is now exposed. Sure, he can still preach if that is what he's called to do; just not in your church. The list can go on, I'm sure.
In his book Beyond Style: Mastering the Finer Points of Writing, author Gary Provost dedicates an entire chapter to the issue of credibility as it concerns writing, both fiction and non-fiction. In fiction, credibility comes into play when your character does something that is... well, out of character. In the book On Writing, Stephen King writes about how he noted that one of his characters said something that didn't quite fit. And it's not just them. While reading my own manuscript, I had to write this on the first page:
"Worrisome? Not worrisome, but a nag!"
Here's what had happened. Toward the end of the novel, a character had demonstrated her own personality, and everything I had previously thought about her had changed. So, when I came back to reading through the manuscript again, I already knew I needed a revision. Without the revision, the reader would have stopped and said, "Wait a minute. I thought she was the timid type." And just like the politician who loses the vote, or the preacher who loses the pulpit, a writer who presents uncredible characters loses the reader.
In his book, Gary Provost writes about a friend who states that he drafts a small biography for each character before writing any novel. That way, he can keep track of who is who and how each one will react. I don't know that I will go that far. Ever. For me, one of the joys of writing is discovering who the characters are along the way. Fixing the issues is what revisions are for.
By the way, if you've never read Beyond Style, I highly recommend it. It has good reminders for the experienced writer and some solid insights for all.
Last week, I was excited to look at the Writer's Digest Your Story competition and see that the editors had selected my story as one of the final picks. Without giving you the title to my story, I only ask that you Forumites take time to read the stories and vote.
Last week, I also finally sent off a story to Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. I'm slightly nervous about this one. For me, there's a real game change in the emotions every time I'm about to send a story off to one of the bigger names. I can't explain that. It should feel the same either way, right? Or maybe it shouldn't.
Maybe it's the credibility thing, only on a different level.
Until next time...