Now here is a news story that must give heart to writers worried about whether their fictional situations are going to be too unbelievable: Man throws puppy at biker gang, does a moonie and escapes on bulldozer. Before anyone takes issue with me for referring her or him to a story in which a puppy and some innocent biker boys are grossly abused (but, please note, neither puppy nor bikers perished in this incident), may I say that my main reason for writing a post about this is the matter of realism in crime novels. I am always disappointed when a crime writer, in the interests of a plot, strains credibility so much that my willing suspension of disbelief is compromised; it’s as bad for me as one memorable occasion at the Leeds Playhouse (no, not the West Yorkshire Playhouse, but its excellent predecessor, which clung to the back of the Leeds University sports hall back in the seventies), when the balcony in a production of Romeo and Juliet collapsed under the lovers’ combined weight and I was torn between convulsions of laughter, waves of sympathy for the actors and, most significant of all, anguish at the loss of the moment.
You will by now, if you have recovered from that news story, be thinking that I’m just considering far-fetched scenarios, but there are other things, too: I was much struck by an excellent recent post (Facebook December 24th 2012 -scroll to date), written by the very astute crime novelist Margaret Murphy (whose research to support the realism of her work is painstaking), which presented a subtle point about the need for a writer to include precise and convincing technical detail, but not to overwhelm the reader with an overdose of it; her sense of the need for convincing her reader is highly-developed and she has her audience very firmly in mind.
For me, as someone whose interest lies more in the psychological portrayal of characters than in procedural elements, my mind was less affected by the absurdity of the situation in the news report than by the mind of the man who committed this astonishing series of acts. I know that this is one of those news stories which will never be followed up in the media and that the only way I’ll ever find out more about this man will be by visiting the area of Germany in which it all happened and doing research there. I’m left to my own mental devices, therefore, and I’m imagining all kinds of things beyond the mere ‘stopped taking depression medication’ comment. There are so many psychological aspects to this that my mind is running on how I might have prepared the reader by my characterisation, were this incident to have featured in a novel of mine, to make this reality achieve a fictional realism.
I confess, I’m struggling!