I imagine many writers out there have heard a fellow writer say, “But it really happened that way!” when questioned by beta readers or critique partners about a particular event in their story. (I might even be guilty.)
This isn’t an original thought, but I’m sharing because it’s worth remembering: just because something happened in real life doesn’t mean repeating it in your story will automatically make it “real” to the reader. It’s your job as a writer to render the event believable. That might require deviating from the “real” nature of the “real” event in order to make it authentic to your characters, story, and, ultimately, your audience. You might know it’s “for real” since you experienced the event or saw it happen or whatever. But your audience doesn’t know that.
That’s why ripped-from-the-headlines television shows are such a hit, I think. Their almost-unbelievable story lines become believable because the audience has “heard” it before, thanks to the media. (I think many readers would have had a hard time accepting Room’s premise if not for the Josef Fritzl and Jaycee Dugard cases.)
While readers often willingly suspend their disbelief, they’re willing to suspend it only so far. It’s the writer’s responsibility to make even the most unbelievable thing feel real. Not an easy task.
Have you read anything recently that made you go “No way. That never could have happened”? Or have you read anything that seemed unbelievable but you kept reading anyway and the “thing” became believable, thanks to the writer’s skill? Share in the comments.