The Authors Collection: Does plausibility make good fiction?

Scientists in a lab

People read  novels to escape the real world, right?

Maybe. But they still want the world in the novel to feel like the real world.

Enter plausibility as an essential element in fiction writing.

I’ll give you a case in point.

The other day at a conference I was talking shop with an author who was new to me.  We discussed his book and he asked me about the elevator pitch for my latest work.

An elevator pitch is what you would tell someone about a book if you had to do it during a ride on an elevator.  It is the down and dirty about the book.  We had just listened to a presentation about elevator pitches, so this author was asking me to take that presentation to heart and see if I could do one.

AlzheimersConspiracy cover for VG books

“In The Alzheimer’s Conspiracy, the CIA and a major drug company develop a drug that will induce Alzheimer’s.  The CIA uses this drug to neutralize its enemies.  An agent tries to blow the whistle on the deal, but falls victim to the disease before he can do so. His son takes up the battle for him and enlists the aid of a country lawyer, a Texas Ranger and a beautiful medical researcher.”

The other author thought about the set up for a minute before he spoke. Then he told me about some medical research he was aware of involving proteins called prions.  That research had led to a number of breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research, the search for a cure.

I had not mentioned anything to him about prion research.

But I knew about it.

“The sinister, top secret project in my book is named Project Prion,” I said.

He thought about it.

“That’s a very plausible story,” he said.

“I know,” I said.  “Researchers are inducing Alzheimer’s in laboratory rats right now.”

“I don’t doubt it,” he said.


You get the point.  When an author creates the world of his novel, he should give a lot of thought, and conduct some research, into the critical components of the plot.  If she concocts something too far-fetched, readers may dismiss the whole set up for the book. But if the book embraces cutting edge science or technology, research in its infancy, the bit becomes not only plausible but thought-provoking.

What ifs are premised on what ares.






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  • I think plausibility is critical. I like to read about the real world as long as, to me, it is an unfamiliar world.

  • john crawley

    I recently wrote an article for Shelf Unbound magazine on this very topic. There i quoted a scientist who had assisted my research in writing the book, The Myth Makers, as having said the probability was key. here is a slice of that article: “And as it was the job of the reporter to sift through these elements to separate them, it likewise is the
    job of the scientist to do the same, perhaps in reverse order. The real trick both
    in the lab and on the keyboard is holding it all together — keeping the
    imaginary believable and the reality something probable. As one of the scientist
    assisting me said, “Improbability is not bad. Unlike impossibility, it leaves
    the door cracked open just enough to allow doubt and chance to enter.” I like
    to think that is the job of good fiction.”

    • John, I agree. Plausibility makes the crazy stuff we write seem a little less crazy.

  • I think plausibility can come in many forms – a story of fantastical creatures or aliens, for example, can be plausible if the way they relate to each other and humans connects in some way to the reality of our daily lives..

    • Darlene, that’s a good point. Somehow the reader must feel that the story is possible.

  • I need some plausibility when I read. Cutting edge is great, futuristic is great, but I have to believe. If I step out of that belief, I’m out of the story. The good news is: I’m pretty gullible. A talented author can make me believe!

    • Gae-Lynn, And following up on Darlene’s comment below, I think if the world the author creates has its own coherence, then the reader can believe the story, even if it is something outside our usual frame of reference. Thanks for the comment.

  • nice

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