My husband and I have experienced
an event that was sitcom worthy. Often we sit around and laugh about the mass
exodus from Florida that occurred with the near hit of the monster hurricane,
Floyd. We left town with three cars, two in-laws, two sons, and five animals in
tow. We had characters. We had mishaps. We had adventure. We had hilarity.
However, when we stop laughing, we always end with the same sentence: “No one
would ever believe us.” 
This last week I was
involved in a discussion with a writer who was told that his characters and his
scenes were not realistic. This author declared, “But the characters are based
on real events and real people.”
Thus we learn that truth
can be stranger than fiction.
Authors walk a thin
line when it comes to plausibility of character.
On one hand, fiction is
truth on steroids. Readers will buy the fact that one man can be a spy one
moment and a loving father another (True
Lies)
. That a man can go deep into the jungle and rescue a reporter, return
to the states, and be sent on a mission to stop chemical warfare from killing
millions (Deadly Additive by Donn
Taylor), but then you put a character in a normal situation and the reader has
problems with the story.
Why is that?
I call it lack of
credibility.
If a novels main backdrop is a hospital and the main characters
are doctors and nurses, there are protocols and medical jargon, there is a
certain way a doctor will behave, how they will address a patient versus a
colleague or a nurse. Place a doctor in an emergency room and have him speak
and behave like a store owner, and credibility is lacking.
Likewise, portraying a
bait shop owner as if he’s a medical doctor isn’t very credible either unless
the fact that the bait shop owner is a retired physician is layered into the
story. And what an interesting story—and character—that could be.
That’s the key. A
doctor can act contrary to the way a reader believes a doctor should act, but
only if the correct foundation is laid. For example, the doctor is a jokester.
On the job, he treats everyone like his best friend. He jokes with his
patients. He addresses medical issues without medical jargon. Something,
though, has led the doctor to this type of behavior. What could it be? Perhaps
when the doctor goes home, he has to live with the demons of regret and
remorse. Maybe the life of a doctor is too much for him to handle. He grieves
over each patient he loses. He can’t forgive himself even when the fault is not
his. At home, the walls close in on him. On the job, he has to cope. He does so
with laughter. After all, wasn’t it Mark Twain who said, after the death of his
beloved brother, “The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow; there is no
humor in Heaven.” While I only agree with the first part of Mr. Twain’s quote,
it does lend itself to some thought, and that thought can lend itself to great
characterization.
When examining your
novel for credibility of character, make sure that the reader understands why
the character behaves the way he/she behaves. This doesn’t mean burying the
reader under pounds of back story. It doesn’t mean the reader has to know
everything at once. What it does mean is allowing the reader to meet the
character a little at a time. If you have a character like our fictional doctor
above, drop hints that he isn’t quite right in the eyes of others or that there
is a Mr. Hyde to his Dr. Jekyll.

Happy editing.

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