Friday, June 14, 2013

Implausiblity in Fiction

I have been seeing a lot of reviews lately that mention something being "too implausible". I have been guilty of questioning whether belief was being stretched too far, though I hope I have never used this bold a statement. I have been pondering this expression quite a bit. Is it possible for fiction to be too implausible, particularly fiction directed toward children?

The second half of that question is because I have seen this phrase used several places in regards to Holly Black's book Doll Bones. Yes, the kids do things kids typically wouldn't get away with. But when did that become a problem in a book? I am preparing to read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg with a group of 4th-6th graders, as I have done many years. Kids love this book and the implausibility of the situation is part of that love. Children want to believe they can run away from home, live in a museum, and succeed at it, only returning on their own terms. Kids want to believe these things are possible, live in a museum, sail a boat after only reading about it, star in a Broadway play, climb through their closet and find another world. And if they can't, they want to think that there are other kids out there who can. And why not? Why is this considered a criticism of a book? After all, isn't this part of the job fiction sets out to do?

I will say there are times a book stretches my belief too far and ceases to work for me. (Swiss Family Robinson being the worst offender I can think of.) However, I try to recognize that this may just be a personal issue and not a fatal flaw in the book itself. Hopefully that is the way I usually present it. I read fiction for many reasons, and one of those reasons is to sometimes escape the rules and strictures of the real world. I say bring on the implausible. It makes it so much more fun.

Is anyone else seeing this more lately? What are your thoughts?

13 comments:

  1. Hmmm, I don't think I've seen that more. I generally say that I wasn't able to suspend my disbelief, rather than implausible. I'd say that with Mrs Basil, that is the charm and probably Swiss Family too. Children's fiction lets you get away with stuff like that.

    For me, I think it depends what kind of book it is. So, for example, if a dystopia doesn't have any sort of world building whatsoever, I might declare it implausible. If it's a conceptual sort of thing where accepting a base change of reality is the whole point, then that's fine. Mrs. Basil is kind of like that; just accept that this is possible, so you can enjoy the magic of it. Or Kat Zhang's world that's like ours only each body is born with two souls.

    I guess it just depends whether it feels like world building is lacking because they didn't have it or for creative purposes.

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    1. I should have clarified-I've been seeing it more as regards children's fiction and I think that's why it's bothering me so much. Especially as people are using it as an argument a book is undeserving of an award. The implausibility of the Broadway storyline in Okay for Now ate the discussion of that book. It is looking like it will dominate the discussion of Doll Bones and Navigating Early too.

      And yes to your point about accept and enjoy the magic. That is what these books are asking us to do and they are for CHILDREN, not us jaded cynical adults.

      I also like your distinction between lack of world building and accepting a base change of reality. In most of the cases I'm seeing its definitely the latter. I don't think it is fair to just throw the word down as the end of the argument. You have to explain how the author failed to make it plausible to you and then tell me why that matters in assessing the book overall.

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    2. Ohhhh, yes, that would be a different issue. Children really like those intellectual leaps. I mean, think about The Phantom Tollbooth. Plausible, maybe not, but absolute perfection, definitely.

      If we can't imagine the world being any different, what's the point of fiction? It's generally pretty easy to tell if a book is lacking internal logic. Just because it doesn't fit with our world doesn't mean it doesn't make sense.

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  2. I can deal with situations being implausible-that's part of the beauty or fiction. But, I can't deal with characters being implausible-like unexplained 180 turn arounds and perfectly sweet children who never really misbehave.

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    1. I like this distinction. I too am far more able to accept implausibilities of plot than character. The two you mention are prime irritants of mine as well.

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  3. It sounds like it comes across as a response to the worldbuilding - in this case, to the perceived failure of the worldbuilding.

    After all, in a justified, weird world (a la Francis Hardinge), weird or "implausible" behavior seems entirely in context, doesn't it?

    "Too implausible" strikes me as a judgement - a personal opinion - stated as a fact. By which I mean the sentiment behind it is that the action, for whatever reason, didn't work for the reader. That might be a logical perspective if it's based on literary criteria, or an emotional reaction if the book didn't work for the reader. But it sounds too nonspecific either way.

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    1. It is incredibly nonspecific and it's just so carelessly tossed around.

      Francis Hardinge is a great example and I think Doll Bones certainly falls in the same category.

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  4. It definitely dominated discussion of Code Name Verity at the Printz blog last year and MADE ME WANT TO CRY. But I think book bloggers often fall into comfortable and lazy generalizations--I know I've done it, though not with this term--and then sometimes want to defend their choice when they're called on it. I like the distinctions everyone else has been making in the comments, especially the one about setting/world vs. characters.

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    1. Oh I forgot about that CNV discussion. Once it went in that direction I actively avoided it so I wouldn't explode.

      True about the lazy generalizations. I do that at times too. Actually thinking about this has helped me a bit in that area, thinking of the terms I just toss out there with no explanation and trying not to as much.

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  5. I quickly looked through my reviews, and find that once every two months or so I say that I had trouble suspending my disbelief--it seems to happen when the plot or the characters goes off somewhere that isn't substantiated by solid world or character building. I think this is a more reader specific way of saying "too implausible," because I try to make it clear that it's me having an issue, rather than issuing a fiat (picking up on Beth's comment about the judgmental nature of that phrase).

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    1. I do think that is a more reader specific way of saying. I say that too. It seems less like a judgement that the book is without value entirely because of that.

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  6. Answering your first paragraph, I think that yes, children's fiction can be completely implausible. It depends on the talent and delivery of the writer. An implausible idea in one book can be completely plausible in the hands of a skilled writer. The writer has to make you believe in what you are reading. If doesn't matter if I am an adult, a skilled author can make me believe it even if it's completely ridiculous. Just what I believe though.

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    1. "An implausible idea in one book can be completely plausible in the hands of a skilled writer. "

      Yes! Then I think if you are arguing that they didn't do that you need to say how they failed. Using the word can't just be it. (In the context of arguing against a book for award purposes.)

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