Monday, August 15, 2011

The Importance of the Plausibility Factor

On the weekend I watched a spy thriller movie. The cinematography was good, the casting was good, the acting was good, the story… had potential. The major problem with this movie was that it lacked plausibility.

When I enjoy a movie I have a high tolerance for the flaws. The more flaws I see, however, the faster I lose my willingness to suspend my disbelief. For example, I had trouble believing that a mere scientist could win a hand-to-hand combat fight with a military trained man. Could I forgive that? Sure, why not. I enjoyed the excitement, but I’d become a little wary. What else was the movie going to ask me to believe?

Then the implausible moments started piling up. I didn’t even need to look for them to find them. The movie included massive whoppers like the bad guy needing to carry around a code for a simple four word password when he’d already proven he had an amazing memory. Or the grand finale which could have been taken care of with a simple anonymous phone call, but our hero had to throw himself into the action instead. Yeah, right.

When we write our stories we must be careful not to fall into the trap of using plot contrivances. Otherwise we may lose our readers. We need to do the research required to get it right. We also need to make sure our characters have no choice but to take the difficult route to get out of a situation.

How do you keep your stories plausible? What are some bad plot contrivances you’ve seen in a movie or read in a book?

47 comments:

  1. yep, we hate lack of plausability! I'm currently translating a totaly implausible book and it's horrid.

    Love that pic you used for the illustration :)

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  2. What movie did you see, Clarissa? (So that I may avoid it...)
    With a movie, if I know up front I need to leave my brain at the door, I'm all right. But that's more difficult to do with books. Since they move slower, I have more time to think about why something isn't possible.

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  3. Yeah, I see that a lot in TV shows. But, if they'd handled it logically, the show would only be 10 minutes long. :)

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  4. We must have twin brains, I have a post on this same thing coming out this week!

    This is one thing that drives me nuts in any story. Just the other night, flipping channels, I flipped away from a movie that had a complete anatomical impossibility. And the movie was BASED on that, it wasn't just a side detail.

    I know it's fiction, but I like enough reality in my fiction that I can believe it COULD be real.

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  5. You're right, I also want a lot of realistic things in my books and movies, but I forgive a lot in blockbusters, I go just for the CGI afterall, :)

    Someone pointed out that in Lord of the Rings, they could have used one of the flying thingymagigs to get the ring to the Sauron. or something like that, instead of having Frodo and Sam walk all the way.

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  6. Did Alex just call you Clarissa!? What? LOL. I must have missed something. But, I'm with Alex, I want to know what the movie is so that I can avoid it. I'm okay with science fiction and fantasy but not stupid.

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  7. A couple years ago I had a well-known published author tell me I could BS my way through. Research isn't needed but I've had avid readers tell me they get really upset when a writer doesn't get it right.

    I was also given the advice one could make up a whole town or restaraunt or wahtever in a real place.

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  8. More good advice, Lynda. If a movie is too hokey, I start flipping the channels. If the characters in a book aren't believable, I find it hard to stick with it.
    Pam at www.2encourage.blogspot.com

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  9. Coming to the defense of the captain ninja, I'm sure Alex got confused. He's been in heavy revision edits mode since a week ago Friday I believe, checking to make sure that everything is plausible, no doubt.

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  10. Flaws are annoying, and I don't see why they have to be there. Surely these guys have to do their research too??

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  11. You are very right! I've just started editing my first draft to my novel and I'm finding SO much that I didn't catch earlier that make the entire thing sound... unbelievable. And that's not in the good way.

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  12. This is kind of an ouchy post ...

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  13. It's usually the little things that get me. I mean, I'll accept elves and superheroes without blinking, but not small-scale inconsistencies -- if she's magic, why can't she unlock the door? Anyway, great point.

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  14. I would have guessed “source code”
    I don’t mind the impossible if the plausibility factor is met!

    That’s why I hated Transformers #3, the human seem indestructible… almost super human, I almost walked out.

    When I write I strive for the plausible, so I can push the boundaries of the believable.

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  15. Dezzy, it must be hard to put all that work into a story you don't like.

    Alex, the movie was Unknown (not a new one, so thank goodness I didn't pay to see it at the cinemas).

    Laura, hahaha so true.

    Shallee, if the story is based on a concept that's currently not possible, that's ok as long as they stick to their rules. If it's totally unrealistic, then urgh.

    Myne, oh yes, like I said, if I'm enjoying the movie then I'll forgive a whole lot. Blockbusters is a great example.

    Clarissa, I'm thinking of changing my name... besides, not many people can get Lynda right. I often get Linda, or Lydia, or Lynne lol. Oh, and even with scifi and fantasy, the rules the creator sets up for the make-believe world have to stay consistent.

    Shelly, making up new towns that don't exist is fine. But you can't put a town where it snows in Arizona... You still have to stick to the rules.

    Pam, exactly, and we never want to do that to our readers.

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  16. I couldn't agree more with this post!

    I find myself much more likely to quit watching movies/shows when they have annoying errors; with books I usually try to muddle through in hopes the author can make it up to me in...I don't know, witty dialogue or whatnot.

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  17. I couldn't agree more with this post!

    I find myself much more likely to quit watching movies/shows when they have annoying errors; with books I usually try to muddle through in hopes the author can make it up to me in...I don't know, witty dialogue or whatnot.

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  18. Jeffrey, hahaha, I had assumed that so I'm not worried. Besides, Clarissa is such a pretty name... ;)

    Trisha, research? What is research? :P

    Jess, at least you've caught it. That's when my crit partners come in handy. They find the holes I thought I'd filled ;)

    Suze, I'm a tad concerned by what you mean by 'ouchy'...

    Jenna, haha great example.

    Jeff, oh I liked 'Source Code' and because I enjoyed it I think I was more forgiving.

    Jes, I think I'm the same unless the holes are gapingly huge.

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  19. Gah! Yes, been guilty of some contrivances of my own, but luckily CPs keep me on my toes if I don't quit being lazy about them myself. :)

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  20. Since I read a lot of fantasy, suspension of disbelief is a must, so I think I've a high tolerance for the implausible too. I'll be sure to give Unknown a wide berth though :)

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  21. Maybe plausibility is something a good beta reader could help with.

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  22. I think for me the worst culprits in films are female warrior women - skinny - no fat or muscle women who are able to down a fleet of monster built creatures/men/animals. People who fight need muscle and bulk - they need XENA - she really looked like she could take on a fleet and then some. :-) Or the women soldiers in Alien 2 - they truly looked like they could take on the aliens!

    Take care
    x

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  23. What gets to me are slasher movies. How many times can you kill a guy before he actually dies for good...just turns me off completely. I've been trying my best to keep my writing as real as possible, even if I do write Fantasy. :)

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  24. I think this many times when I watch a movie or TV show. I don't care if it's realistic or speculative, I have to believe that it could really happen.

    For the most part I write plausible things, but my critique partners have wondered if a few events would really happen (and I'm glad I have them to point things out to me).

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  25. My pet peeve in plausibility is how many women apparently go to be with false eyelashes on and wake up with loads of makeup still in place.

    Sucker Punch is a movie we watched this week and I groaned through most of it.

    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

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  26. For me it comes down to working out motivations and when CPs find those unbelievable moments - I rewrite them!

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  27. I try to constantly question my characters' choices in each key situation. If there's an easier alternative, I know I have to tweak something somewhere! Sometimes it's so frustrating, because I just want that COOL THING to happen, but I have to earn it by making it plausible!

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  28. I'm usually one for suspending belief, most times. I do think if it makes sense within the world of the novel/ film, it's okay. It is hard sometimes to be believable!

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  29. Funny you mention plausability. We watched the film "Faceoff" with J. Travolta & Nick Cage. One is a police detective, the other a criminal. Briefly- they got their faces traded. OK so far until near the end where they had a gunfight in a church. Still plausible, but wait: They are shooting and shooting back and forth, but never hitting each other, this went on & on for several minutes. The good story was ruined for me by the tedious gunfight scene in the church.
    So I know what you mean.

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  30. After the first draft, I find so many flaws in my story. I then start eliminating them.

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  31. It is surprising what stories can get away with concerning suspension of disbelief, and in only a few instances I think audiences will be forgiving, but if it persists throughout the story then it does take away from the overall plot.

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  32. I ask myself if readers will likely believe what I'm trying to sell them. If it's not something that might happen in life, it probably won't be all that likely in fiction.

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  33. Great post. I remember reading the third Maximum Ride book, and being so frustrated because it wasn't believable after awhile. I couldn't even finish the book.:(

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  34. Carol, gotta love those CPs ;)

    Jamie, But even in Fantasty I expect a certain level of believability within the fantasy worlds' rules.

    Michael, absolutely

    Old Kitty, hahaha great example!

    Laila, lol. For sure. They always have to jump up at the last minute.

    Medeia, yes, I think sometimes we get too close to our stories to notice if we have a hole in our plot.

    Charmaine, haha and no makeup on the pillows! lol

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  35. I have a high tolerance for suspending belief, too. Sometimes they ask a little too much. Ie, uploading a virus from a mac to an alien ship ... although, I love that movie. lol

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  36. I'm with you on this. I'll turn off the TV, where it seems to happen frequently.

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  37. Laura, yes! Motivations are so important. Our characters must have solid motivations for doing things.

    Sarah, it's worth the frustration!

    Talli, yes, exactly

    Anthony, it only takes one questionable scene to ruin an otherwise good story.

    Rachna, it's funny how we think it's right until we read through it again.

    Mark, that's exactly right.

    J L Campbell, true.

    Emily, it's frustrating when that happens.

    Mary, hahaha great example (I loe that movie too)

    Helen, exactly.

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  38. Yeah we all hate a movie that doesn't really convince us. Research is definitely needed for our novels/stories as readers need to be respected as intelligent people who only have to google your statements to see if they are right. Well, google may not be right, but...

    Denise

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  39. no joke, man! I hate stuff like that... and now I'm wondering what movie it was... :D LOL!

    I just try to keep it feeling real to me. I mean there has to be a certain level of "suspension of disbelief," but I can tell ya. I don't push it.

    great post, Lynda~

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  40. Denise, well said. Readers aren't dumb and they'll no longer be our readers if we lose their respect through laziness.

    LTM, yes exactly, there does need to be a certain level of acceptance, but there's a danger of pushing it too far :)

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  41. Sounds like a really sad movie!

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  42. I just saw Cowboys and Aliens and some of it was just so predictable and not even believable--it made it hard sometimes to go with it.

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  43. I used to be really judgy when I came to me watching things. I've gotten slightly better, but it's easy to get thrown out of liking something over something small (at least for me movie wise.)

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  44. Oh, this is a good one Lynda! Just last night we watched a teen horror movie (not my choice.)The first half was rather a dark, dark comedy and very good. But then in degenerated into a mess of improbabilities. Nobody at school missed the dead girl? Nobody smelled her decomposing body? Nobody noticed those kids with suspiciously long teach and tails? Nobody saw all that blood everywhere? And where were the parents! I could go on and on....

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  45. TV programmes are the most irritating for me. There are so many implausible plot lines... too many to recount.

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  46. Lynda - You are so right! Great post and more great advice!

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  47. Al, I wanted to throw my popcorn at the screen...

    Terri, I haven't seen that one yet.

    Kelley, exactly

    Bish, hahahaha fantastic example. Amusing.

    Rosalind, I don't watch a lot of tv for that reason.

    Maeve, thanks

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I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.