Thomas C. Foster, in How to Read Novels Like a Professor, says this about the Un/Believable Fiction Paradox (a label I totally just made up on the spot here):
"...the essential artifice of the novel [is that i]t is a made-up work about made-up people in a made-up place. All of which is very real. We are asked to believe in and treat as potentially real a space that is manifestly imaginary."Think about it for a moment. Have you ever read a book set in a contemporary time/place that seems far-fetched even for a novel? Maybe the author failed to explain a crucial piece of world building, such as why a person suddenly takes on the appearance of a disco ball after joining ranks of the undead?* Writers, even science fiction and fantasy authors, constantly walk a tightrope between what is believable and what will cause a reader to stop reading. This tightrope is best summed up in the Law of Bogus Locales, as again stated by Foster: "Places in a work of fiction are never real but must behave as if real."
Essentially, the Law of Bogus Locales means that any real-world, identifiable locale in a novel is a fictionalized version of itself. A small Washington state town isn't the real town. Cincinnati, Ohio is a shadow of the real city. The same is true for St. Louis, Louisville, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, London, Tokyo, and any other place that can be located on a map or through a Google search. The version you read in a book exists only in the author's imagination. But...there's still that annoying bit about believability. Someone familiar with the area around Grand Central Terminal in New York will know there's a restaurant called Pershing Square tucked beneath the Park Avenue Viaduct and that the Chrysler Building is to the left when exiting Grand Central on 42nd Street. If a writer places the Chrysler Building to the right, a reader who knows that area may stop reading. To have any reader stop reading your book before the end is a death knell for a writer. These are the issues that drive authors crazy, give us nightmares, keep up us awake at night, and force us to double--triple--check every fact before we send a book to the publisher. And even then we worry.
The truth I'm trying to convey here is that all writers suffer from some level of insanity, but it's a healthy level of insanity. We chose to walk the tightrope. We accepted the challenge issued by the Un/Believable Fiction Paradox. We do it because we love the thrill. We do it because we can't not do it.
Until next time...
* This is in no way a slam or slight against such an author. Merely a well-known example used to illustrate a point.