I’m always thinking about things that happen to me in real life that, if I’d read it in a book, I wouldn’t believe it could really happen. Things like coincidental circumstances that happen all the time in real life come off as lazy writing in a book. The character didn’t actively pursue that coincidence, they didn’t earn it. It’s a good lesson in that the argument "But it happened!" isn’t a good enough excuse when crafting a novel. Real life doesn’t come in 3 neat acts. So I thought I’d list 5 things I’ve noticed in my life and how they would never work in a book.
1. Every single good female friend I’ve ever had is the older sister to a younger sister. Seriously. Every single one of my friends has a sister. No brothers in the mix. No older sisters either. No third sibling. My friends from camp, from high school, from college, from my sorority. Now, I’m not talking about every girl I’ve ever met, but simply all my really good friends. I always thought this was weird. And if I saw this in a book, I’d like, "Oh come on! That’s not realistic!" Unless the premise revolved around the older sisters banding together or something. This is probably why most of my protagonists have sisters, but the odd thing is that I’ve twice written about a younger sister when I’m the older sister.
2. Those same friends I mentioned above? They’re all 5’3" and under. Maybe I’m just drawn to short people because I’m short and feel a little uncomfortable next to someone tall. Maybe there was something in the water where I grew up.
3. I don’t have one friend whose parents are divorced. Not only that, none of my parents friends are divorced. Everyone is still happily married for over 20 years, with one exception of someone who became a widow. In this day and age with such a high divorce rate, it would seem unrealistic in a novel for everyone to be happily married.
4. In high school, I was the girl who removed one embarrassing accessory and then became hot. We’ve seen it a few times and we’ve all rolled our eyes. Remember in SHE’S ALL THAT when Freddie Prinze Jr. had to fine the "ugliest" girl in school for a bet and they chose a girl with a pony tail, glasses, and….the worst thing of all…paint splattered OVERALLS. NOOOOOOO. Not overalls!!! She could never overcome that! And then the audience is supposed to be shocked when she lets her hair down, puts in contacts, and exchanges the overalls for a dress and looks hot. For me, I got my braces ON in 9th grade. Most people I knew were getting them off. I had stubborn baby teeth that clung to my gums and refused to part with me until my dentist had to force them out of there himself. From the moment I got them on, I stopped talking. I stopped smiling, which if you know me, is a very hard feat for me to accomplish. I became super shy. I was so beyond embarrassed by my braces that I sat in class and barely participated–also hard for me because I liked to raise my hand and prove I had the answer to the question. I talked to my friends but no one else. And by no one else, I mean guys. There was a reason I didn’t have a boyfriend or even a love interest (I mean, one that wasn’t unrequited) for most of high school. And the day I got the braces off senior year? Everything changed. I started talking, participating in class, smiling (it’s my best feature). I flirted with boys. I started acting confident. So it’s no surprise that suddenly I had a lot of interest from boys. I got invited to parties I wouldn’t have been on the radar of before. I went on dates. Actual dates where the boys paid. It felt like it happened overnight, but it wasn’t just simply getting the braces off. It’s was a change in my attitude. I was pushing boys away before and now I acted approachable. Still, I think often of how many times I roll my eyes when this sort of thing happens in a movie because it’s so damn convenient.
5. I did well in school. And the reason for this was that I wanted my parents to be proud of me. I would get upset if I got a B on a test because I was afraid of disappointing them. They were great to me and I wanted to show them how much I appreciated it by getting good grades, getting into a good college, and doing well for myself. I never rebelled. I never got punished because I never gave them a reason to punish me. I didn’t even have a curfew because as long as my mom knew where I was and who I was with, she didn’t care how long I stayed out. And I was never doing something bad. She was even excited when I went to parties. I never got into a car when the driver had been drinking. We had a rule about that too–if I ever found myself in that circumstance, I just had to call my parents and one of them would pick me up, even if it was in the middle of the night. Of course, I never had to act on that rule. Basically, there was no conflict between us. My parents let me do what I wanted and mostly I wanted to make them proud. In a book? LAME. And boring. Protagonists need stronger motivation than keeping their parents happy! They need a goal, a want. And of course, conflict drives a story. I didn’t really have any that.
What are some things that happened in your life that would never work in a novel?