Friday, June 3, 2011

Because I said so and we'll see...

Have those phrases ever come out of your mouth? That's okay, you don't have to answer. No one really wants to admit to them. They are also the words, along with "we'll see," I promised myself I never would say. My goodness, I hated when Dad would say "we'll see." Why not just say no? But now, I know why these phrases sneak into a parent's vocabulary. I've inherited the code book for what to say when you don't know what to say and it seems to apply equally to both real life and to writing a novel.

"We'll see" means I'm stalling. It means I haven't figured out a good explanation yet. "Because I said so" has a duel use. It could mean I've explained why toys don't belong in the toilet one too many times! In this case, it's a cry of frustration, a last resort effort. (Thankfully that was in my son's younger years.) It can also be used too early, when I ignore the voice in the back of my mind that says, to be fair, I should give some sort of an explanation. But sometimes I don't. Sometimes I am the dictator to save either time, sanity or both.

For writing, I think "we'll see" is probably a trick that readers will see through and might mean more work is required. However, "because I said so" can come in handy. It isn't as arbitrary as it may seem and the author and reader can be on the same page. I have certain assumptions for why no further explanation is necessary. When I use it I feel, to the best of my ability, that the groundwork has probably been laid down with previous explanations or experience.

Because I said so…there will be a happy ending.

Because I said so…my heroine can time travel and teleport.
Because I said so...my hero is a ghost.

How much of an explanation we give is really up to us. We know we should explain to make the situation believable, but how much? Is there such a thing as too much? Sometimes, I think there is if we forget what the reader is already predisposed to accept when they pick up your book. Two of those things are the happy ending and suspension of disbelief. Ever consider if you explain too much and you might diminish your power? Let's look at these two:

The Happy Ending
As a romance writer, the Happily Ever After (HEA) is the number one assumption, and it’s always been fascinating to me how that promise of a happy ending is unique to the romance genre. Millions of readers read romances because of that promise and writers choose to write one to deliver that promise. Outside of the romance genre, the HEA promise is often ridiculed or thought to “give away” the ending. Ha! Don’t get me started in the defense of HEA. I could write a book (ha ha) going on in defense of the HEA. I love it for so many reasons. But “because I said so” is perhaps my favorite.
Only when I finished my first novel (so long ago now and hopefully an experience to be repeated) and attained the “expected” HEA did I appreciate it as the driving force to why I write in the first place. I was doing it all for the HEA - - that hugely personal satisfaction to know that “because I said so” the hero and heroine, after all their struggles, would STAY together and I can imagine their future as happy. We might touch on that golden future in an epilogue or even revisit them in a sequel, but they will stay happy…because I said so.

In REAL life and all it’s uncertainty, we know things can change. We get hurt, we get older, we have little control over events. Even a soap opera wears on us because the “happily ever after” is not a sure thing. Not so for the hero and heroine in a romance novel.

Suspension of Disbelief
Why does a reader believe my heroine can time travel and teleport? Well, umm, it might be because it says so on the back cover blurb. Because I said so, it’s not a secret the reader is about to read a paranormal, just as the HEA is not a secret. Before they open the pages, a reader is preconditioned to accept a certain level of suspension of disbelief.

In many ways, it’s up to you to destroy the suspension of disbelief. It's not a goal you want to attain, of course, but it’s all about remembering what the reader already accepts. One thing I've learned is that a little goes a long ways. It's best to be in some ways sparse with the details that have to make factual sense and any concept that seems out of the ordinary applies. Less is more. If my setting is historical, stating the date and location goes a long ways to give the reader an immediate sense of place.

I’m talking about writing a romance here, of course, and it’s not a substitute for filling in needed details. But if I go overboard in describing the technical or other worldly aspects, then I might as well write science fiction.

The same applies to intrigue. I've recently read a story where a huge plot point is that the hero finds out that the villain is in the country and planning to steal his unborn babies. He calls Interpol and, in less than paragraph, he (and we) finds this out. We're not even shown the conversation in a scene. In my opinion, if we'd been shown this conversation it would have been tipping the scales toward an intrigue novel. Are we wondering how our hero has Interpol connections? Do I care about who he's talking to? No, not particularly, to either question. I know the hero is a billionaire and, in a romance novel, that's pretty much enough for me.

Is it cheating? Is it lazy writing? Is telling rather than showing? No, it’s a tool we can use and part of being wise enough to know what the majority of your audience will accept. Just like a parent, the decision is not always clear.

“Because I said so” is both useful for being a parent and also as an author "perk" to “play God.” In the broadest sense, being a writer does require a certain amount of confidence to make the rules and decide how much explanation is required. We create new worlds and direct our characters’ lives as we see fit. In what ways have you used “because I said so” in your writing?

2 comments:

  1. This is an interesting notion, and I'm trying to think of when I've used "Because I said so", other than the HEA. Of course, at the moment I can't think of anything! However, there have been times I've read books where the author has chosen to zip thru something, and I've felt shortchanged. I wanted to see it with my own eyes, instead of having the author telling me "because I said so". LOL

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  2. Melissa A. JohnsonJune 4, 2011 at 8:34 AM

    Hi Donna! (For some reason I can't seem to sign into my own blog!)

    Yes, I've also had those reading moments when I've felt shortchanged by an author's "because I said so." When it happens, it tends to stick out like a sore thumb. Interestingly, I think I find those moments oddly forgivable because, in my "unique" logic, they happen when the rest of the story has had me fully engaged. I mean, you can't be disappointed if there weren't high points to fall from, right? LOL I guess sometimes I've wished the author had opted for a "because I said so" moment rather than what turned out to be a distracting explanation or description. But I always find it interesting to consider the choices a writer makes and what works or doesn't work in case by case instances.

    Btw, notice my larger font? It seems like the font on the internet is shrinking, or is it only me? LOL

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