Tami Lewis Brown lives in one of the oldest houses in Washington, DC. It is (mostly) ghost-free. She escaped from a career as a trial lawyer to obtain an MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. And she’s the author of the forthcoming RADIANT MAN along with SOAR, ELINOR! and THE MAP OF ME, all published by Farrar Straus and Giroux Books for Young Reader.

This week I’ve been talking about how to suspend disbelief in your fiction.

Every story has it- some plot element that just wouldn’t happen like that in the real world. It’s because life is not a plot. Story is by its very nature at least a little bit contrived. So you don’t write about vampires or robots? No matter. You still have to suspend your reader’s disbelief.

We talked about caring about the protagonist and facing the unbelievable square on. Today I’m proposing a few other tools to bolster credibility. I bet you can come up with even more.

1 Kick Up The Bad Plot driven fiction has an antagonist- that is a person or force that challenges the protagonist. We know the antagonist has to be powerful enough to make it a fair fight. Yeah Yeah Yeah But there’s another excellent reason to make that antagonist really threatening. Fear is probably the most powerful emotion. If your protagonist is genuinely afraid and your reader cares your reader will be afraid too. A scared reader is a reader who believes.

2 Don’t forget the details. I read lots and lots of raw manuscripts. Just about every writer, from third graders on up, have been told to include colorful details in their prose. So I read a lot about flashing violet eyes and red Porsche 911s pulling up to curbs. Usually, as far as I’m concerned, those details are a big so what. Unless optometry is really important to your story who cares about the color your protagonist’s eyes? But telling details are an entirely different matter. Telling details- details that matter to your story- are the strongest building blocks for credibility. They give a reader an important anchor to hold onto. The other stuff quickly piles into clutter.

3 Mix fact with fiction. Historic fiction isn’t the only writing that requires research. Cold hard facts will establish your authority as a storyteller to be trusted. Just don’t fall into an information dump.

4 Don’t forget cause and effect/action and reaction. Everything has to happen for a purpose, as a result of something else. Whether a character suddenly feels the urge to fly, or a calm, cool, and collected mom spontaneously flies off the handle unprovoked events makes any reader skeptical. If the action is explained later okay fine. It’s not wrong to raise questions in a readers mind. But even if your story is impossible it has to have its own internal logic. There has to be a reason for everything that happens, even if that reason is physically impossible.

What else? These are just four more tools off the top of my head. What other building blocks of believability can you come up with?

And now for a drum roll…….

Next week we have a new team member stepping into the Tollbooth! Teresa Harris is a former children’s book editor and the author of Summer Jackson: All Grown Up and Love, Cherish, both forthcoming. We can’t wait to see her in the Tollbooth, bright and early Monday.

~ Tami Lewis Brown