What sort of image does a red picket fence conjure up? Does something appear wrong? Different? If a bright red border fence surrounded a white frame bungalow, I’d wonder why the owners painted it that color. Maybe they were trying to make a statement. Maybe they thought it looked cool (they must be loco). Or maybe, it was some weird primer awaiting a final coat of white. Could it be a mistake? Hard to imagine someone painting a whole fence the wrong color, right?
Pick Your Color
Well, now you understand the challenge in writing fiction that’s believable. Suppose I wanted to write about a quaint little village in New England and its tiny white church in the center of the town. The church’s spire is the tallest structure around. If my goal is to draw the reader into the village and tell stories about a certain member of this church, I’m going to have to keep the reader’s focus and make sure the picket fence surrounding the church remains white. A red fence would distract the reader, right?
Don’t be so quick. Maybe the red picket fence is the perfect snare. It makes you stop and think, What’s wrong with this picture? If that’s your intent, bravo. But, if you want to stay within the customs of quaint, conservative church folk, better keep the fence white. We could try red, but suspending disbelief for the reader of the red fence will require more work:
Whose Idea Was This Anyhow?
It was an odd little town; not like all the others. Its one claim to fame was a tiny white church surrounded by a gaudy red picket fence. Some say the painter man didn’t care for the pastor, nobody knew for sure, but it really didn’t matter. The town folk decided to leave it that color, just the same. They said the red symbolized the blood of Jesus. Others say the constant stream of visitors to the church helped fill the church’s coffers, and that’s why they left it red.
The moral of this story is this: A writer has to keep the reader believing when writing fiction. Especially problematic is how to use factual material. I said before to get rid of reality if it doesn’t enable the telling of your story. But doing so requires selective culling. Some facts you can’t get rid of. North Carolina is on the east coast, not the west. No one’s going to buy your story if you tell them otherwise. Okay, never say never. Maybe an asteroid plops on North Carolina and flips it like a pancake on top of California. Who knows? Strange things happen.
All of us have been turned off to movies that stretch believability too far. I don’t watch medical shows because the doctors and nurses always look better than they do in real life and there’s too much drama – it’s hard for me to relate to because it doesn’t happen in real life. I recently read a novel that predicted a catastrophic outcome if a patient went without a certain medication. It was a medicine I knew to be safe to discontinue and I almost put down the book. If a writer wants me to suspend disbelief about medical stories, they’ll have to be more careful.
On the other hand, what about my prior post and the beast we supposedly freed? Won’t all that creativity remain closeted if we’re stuck with research and getting our facts right? Didn’t I make a case for creative license, getting ‘in character,’ and creating our own fictional world? Yes, I did. Just make sure the fiction you write appears real.