“Because that means it’s the city.
That means it’s the landscape: the bricks and the girders, and the faulty wiring and the shot elevator machinery, all conspiring together to make these myths true. And that’s crazy.”
Modern fictional characters live in a world of paranoia. That is to say that what is delusion in the mind of a paranoiac (“the world is a conspiracy and I am the center of Their plans”) is the reality they live in.
Modern thought regarding the structure of fiction, with its emphasis on story beats, hero’s journeys, and character arcs has given rise to a literary landscape of literal madness.
I am not talking about experimental or absurdist fiction here, but mainstream popular writing. Everything that happens in a work of fiction is because the author makes it happen. When the author is working to fit events into a pre-determined formula the result is unrealistic and contrived.
It kills tension. The reader knows the story in advance. The death of the mentor isn’t a tragedy, it’s inevitable. When the boy meets the girl and a silly misunderstanding puts them at odds, no one is wondering if they will work out their differences before the last page. We know that the scrappy orphan will survive and that the villainous henchman will come to a messy end. When the police chief fires the headstrong detective we know it’s temporary and that everything will be cleared up in the end.
When the story is determined by a formula, the odds are irrelevant.
This is, I believe, partially responsible for the inversion of tropes that is currently in vogue. That doesn’t help, though, it just substitutes one formula for another. The old formulas at least had the advantage of being emotionally satisfying if logically absurd. The new subversive formulas provide neither tension nor satisfaction. So what is the solution?
Ignore The Puppy.
Throw away the beat sheet and the outline. Lose the hero’s journey. Forget the narrative structure. Look at the situation in your story logically, as if it were happening in the real world instead of a story, and ask, “What would realistically happen next?”
Paradoxically, you will surprise your readers. We have come to a point where a reasonable outcome is seen as original and groundbreaking.
Go off the script. Let the events unfold realistically–not in the nihilistic sense of “realism” where everything predictably turns out for the worst, but with the quotidian uncertainty of real life. Jump the railroad tracks and go freewheeling across the countryside.
You’ll find yourself blazing new trails that will surprise you. And that will surprise–and delight–your readers.