The other day, during lunch, my seven year-old son was unusually quiet.
“What are you thinking?” I asked him.
He didn’t answer right away. After several seconds, he asked, “What happened to the parents in Madagascar?”
Madagascar? My train of thought snaked through the archives in my mind as I tried to figure out what he was talking about. It was the movie, Madagascar 3, which we watched months ago.
“Oh, Alex’s parents?” I asked.
He chewed his sandwich and said, “How come in the second movie they’re so happy to be together and then in the next one they’re not even there. And then, Alex wants to go back to the zoo? It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Keep in mind that we were talking about a cartoon about zoo animals--talking zoo animals I should add--that miss New York so bad they make their way from Africa to their beloved city as members of a traveling circus, all the while a vicious French detective woman with more animal traits than the animals themselves tries to capture them.
And he said the fact that the parents aren’t even in the story doesn’t make any sense? What about the whole traveling circus thing, or the part in which the giraffe is in love with the hippo?
Still, the thing that stood out the most to him was the inconsistencies in the story and the characters’ motivations.
Where am I going with all of this?
That even if we’re writing the most outlandish fantasy, there has to be a connection to reality for the reader to empathize with the characters and their goals.
I’ve never been a gigantic blue alien, but I could totally identify with Avatar’s character as they tried to save their civilization from greedy people.
I’ve never been to Neverland, but in my happiest moments as a child, I wished I could stay little forever.
My father wasn’t a soldier for the Union army during the Civil War, but how I wished I had three sisters and a best friend, just like in Little Women.
You get the point.
In fiction, the writer creates a world where the reader can lose track of time and space for as long as the story lasts. Character traits, dialog, plot, and voice are all tools to give credibility to the story.
If I’m reading a YA book and the main character doesn’t sound like a teenager at all, the spell of the story is broken and the reader is pulled away from it. The same thing happens if the characters’ actions aren’t congruent with their motivations.
What are some things that pull you out of the story as a reader? As a writer, how do you keep reality in your story?