Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Are you a believer?

What type of reader are you – one that easily suspends your sense of disbelief and loses yourself in the story no matter how crazy it may get? Or do you question everything and get frustrated over the little details that just seem too far-fetched?

This is the struggle for thriller writers, I think. I’ve spent most of the summer revising book two, a sequel to THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING. Sequels present their own challenges but I’ve decided – the hardest part about writing a thriller (sequel or not) is the believability issue. I think when your story takes place in a world filled with magical and paranormal activity, it’s easier somehow to blur the line that separates believability from just too far-fetched to be real. But for contemporary thrillers, that line that can be as unforgiving as a tight pair of skinny jeans the day after vacation where you may have eaten just a bit more than normal. You have to bend and stretch and work really hard to get those jeans up and buttoned.

Thrillers must have extreme and highly unusual situations and the characters almost always find themselves in a race to save either their own life or someone else’s. There has to be twists and turns and you have to set them up so they don’t come out of left field but don’t give too many hints that the reader can see it coming a mile away. It’s a complicated dance of words and pacing and tension.

Recently, my critique group discovered video chatting and it changed my world. To be able to talk, face to face, and work out plots and character arcs and motivations has helped me more than I ever thought possible. And almost every conversation we have – no matter whose story we’re dissecting – there is always the question, “Will the reader find that believable?”

Because if that answer is no – the story just won’t work. You could have a brilliant plot with complex twists and perfect pacing but if the reader doesn’t trust that world, none of it matters. And then given the fact that every reader has a different level of what they will or will not believe, you can make yourself mad trying to figure out how far to push your story.

Sadly, there is no litmus test for believably, although that would be something I would pay good money for.


Ashley Elston lives in Northwest Louisiana with her husband and three sons. Her debut, THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING, is available now. As you can tell from her post, she is smack dab in the middle of the sequel that will be published by Disney Hyperion in 2014.  

You can find Ashley procrastinating here:


  1. So true: believably is an important aspect to a mystery/thriller, especially when writing for kids and teens. I'm looking forward to this second book :-)

  2. Love your skinny jeans analogy! That's exactly what it feels like. Readers might let you have a few plot stretches, but not many. I often envy writers who use magic/the paranormal. I know they have their own challenges too (world building, etc) but wow, it seems refreshing from where I sit. I've spent half my summer tying myself into a pretzel, trying to figure out plot twists and scenarios that are reasonably realistic for contemporary teens.

  3. Amen to this. As I write, I've struggled with the fact that it's fundamentally not very believable that 12 year olds have much free time and freedom, let alone the leap it takes to believe 12 year olds can bring down criminals. Hard to solve mysteries with helicopter parents!

  4. Hmm - new theory -- maybe kids are not coming in droves to authors' bookstore events because they are too busy fighting crime!


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