Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Contrivance

There is a common complaint about fiction that you hear when someone has decided that a particular story is poorly explained, managed or otherwise unbelievable.

"It's contrived."

The thing about this statement.

It's true.

When talking about fiction, it is always going to be true.


A work of fiction is, by definition, contrived.  It is a made up story with made up circumstances and made up people.  Everything about any piece of fiction is contrived to some degree.

So it will always be contrived.  Now, however, you have to figure out what is wrong with your story that someone would be using that statement.

This is basically the equivalent of the man in the magician's audience who points out an explanation of every trick as he watches it and thus ruining the illusion.

What the problem is, in this case, is that you have stretched things to a point that the reader is no longer engaged in a willing suspension of disbelief.  There are a lot of ways that this could happen, some of which aren't under your control.

The questions and statements that follow "it's contrived" will tell you more than that particular statement will.  Because their follow up statements and questions will target on the parts of the story that they are having trouble believing.

In some cases, a particular scene will quite obviously be directed at answering these questions.  For instance, the Time Travel chapter of Ryoko Saotome was made to specifically answer questions of "why doesn't Washu send them back in time and fix things?"

However, it is always best if you never have to deviate from your planned path to answer such questions.

Also, there will be some people that simply don't enjoy your genre of story.  Someone who does not like or read fantasy will often find any sort of explanation of magic or supernatural abilities to be contrived, for example.  There isn't much you can do about this situation, you can't directly change the sort of stories that a person likes.

Minimizing this situation, however, is the reason that you should have a pre-reader who is not a part of your target audience.  You'll want your story to be entertaining to the broadest range of people as possible.  As such, when testing it out, you want to be able to test it with the mainstream population or with other side populations, if the mainstream is your target.

Just to wrap up: all fiction is a contrivance.  The question you want to answer is "why does he notice it's a contrivance?"

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