If you’re an artist, one of the key things you do is observe life around you. It’s second nature. With your eyes wide open, there should always be plenty of ideas and characters for your work. As a writer, I observe some of the wackiest shit you can imagine. People are illogical and inconsistent to the point of madness. Just look at the folks running for president this year. They pander to the moment, to the funders, to the specific crowd they are standing in front of at any particular moment. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see the fallacies and the out-right personality shifts.
Oh, you’ll find individuals who have a fairly strong narrative in their real lives, those who try to live by consistent values and appear logical from one moment to the next. But I promise you, there are going to be moments when you see people do something so illogical that it will make your brain hurt.
As a writer, this is the stuff of dreams. If you are writing comedy, then the election season is your goldmine. Or was that tragedy, I forget some days. Regardless, you should never be short on characters, motivations or reactions when you write. If you don’t believe me, take your favorite writing device and casually stroll through a department store or better yet, grab a beverage and sit in the food court of your local mall. Within ten minutes you’ll see enough to fill a novel with secondary and perhaps, main characters. It’s better than television most days.
Now, here’s the trick.
You can’t use that stuff as it happens. No one will believe it. We humans are just too whimsical and capricious to be used as is in a story. See, unlike your day job, your dating life, or even a trip to the grocery; fiction has to make sense.
I can hear some of you out there gasping and examples of fairies and dragons are just popping to mind faster than you can write them down in the comments section of this post. Yes, we write about stuff that doesn’t exist. Sometimes we take things that exist and twist them around to be different than what they really are. But the one thing we also do is proceed with internal consistency. I don’t care what logic you use, but if you tell me the Bobby turns green on Tuesdays in the first paragraph. When I see a green skin tone next, it damned well be Tuesday.
See, the characters in your books and stories can be wild men but no matter what their motivations, no matter what their appetites or fears, they must behave with a level of logic that your readers can follow.
Every action must be aligned with the behavior this character has portrayed before, or ample justification must be shown as to why this individual would suddenly start behaving in a way that is different from what you as the author has shown.
It’s a balancing act. I’ve critiqued a lot of stories over the years, shorts all the way to novels. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve had an author tell me, “but that’s the way it happened. I wrote that based on real events.”
To which, I have to inform them that real life is too crazy for fiction. Fiction must follow a logical thread if you want to keep your readers engaged and if you want them to finish reading the piece.
Don’t get me wrong. Be gonzo, write some avant-garde story that would make your high school English teacher cringe in his cardigan. But if you do not have the characters act with an internal logic that the reader can follow, you will lose them.
So, be a people watcher. Eaves drop on conversations and experience the drama of real people from time to time. It’s where we get our juice. But when you put that down on paper or pixels, make sure your darlings can follow the bread crumbs back to their first introduction and your readers will gladly follow you into the apocalypse, or the next general election, depends on your threshold of pain.