Don't Stop Believing
Why? Why are we willing to suspend belief? Why are we willing to believe that the hero really could accomplish absurd physical feats, make impossible shots while running and diving and making out with a beautiful woman, careen through a city on two wheels unharmed, or survive inhuman beatings and still have strength to rescue the damsel in distress? Probably because watching a movie or reading a novel about a network analyst from Des Moines who works 9-5 and comes home to his wife making dinner and his kids doing homework doesn’t make for much of a story. Action, adventure, overcoming adversity, and near superhuman achievements do.
So where do we draw the line? As an author, I’m constantly asking myself whether the action in my novels is believable. Not believable in the sense that you don’t bat an eye. Not believable in that you don’t even question it. But believable enough that you don’t put the book down because it’s just too out there. Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne are a bit over the top at times, but I still watch with bated breath. No one could die quite that hard, but Bruce Willis keeps making big bucks as John McClane. Clive Cussler isn’t writing best-sellers about afternoon tea.
So how much are you willing to suspend belief for a good story? To the point where the character does something you can’t conceive of yourself doing? If you’re a Navy SEAL, I’m okay. If you’re, well, me, then I’m in trouble. To the point where you can’t conceive of anyone ever doing it? To the point that the crazy stunts draw attention away from the story itself?
I’m currently polishing my third novel in The Douglas Files, and my protagonist—Jackson—gets himself into quite a bit of trouble and has to play the action hero. Even as the author, I’ve raised my eyebrow a few times at the plausibility of his actions. I’ve justified them by arguing to myself that I’ve seen a lot wilder exploits in the movies and on TV, and that if Jackson was just a regular guy with a regular life, then his story would never have been written.
Ultimately, I guess my readers—or lack thereof—will let me know. But before I publish a book with a lot of action, dodging bullets, and surviving karate flips, I have to ask, are you about to stop believing?