Monday, May 25, 2015

Plausible

Truth and plausibility have an intriguing and sometimes contentious conversation when they are applied to story.  They remind you of neighbors in an apartment complex, arguing with increased passion about the need for truth.

You are aware to the point of amusement how often beginning writers like to insist, "But it really happened that way," because of your own conviction that whether a thing happened or not in reality, its validity needs plausibility for it to be accepted. Truth in story cannot stand on its own; it needs to be made to radiate an inner and outer sense of possibility.

 Your own conviction recognizes how a plausible thing might not be true at all, even though it carries the portfolio of potential.  A thing can be made to appear true through the simple expedient of one or more characters believing it.  But appearances are open to question.

Is it plausible for Macbeth to give serious import to the prophesies of the three witches he meets early on?  Would a grown man of his stature pay heed to such conjecture?  And yet, some of this conjecture is borne out and is given subsequent nourishment by Macbeth's own inner monster of ambition, stretching its limbs and beginning to nod its head, Yes, yes, I can do this.

Through the behavior of characters and the manipulation of detail, a plausible thing can take on a stature of possibility, suggesting a truth in Reality that it does not have.  By comparing it with demonstrable truths, i.e. The sun will rise tomorrow at X a.m., the tide will wax or wane at these times, the sun will set at X p.m., a vessel of water at sea level, heated to the temperature of 100 Celsius degrees or 212 Fahrenheit degrees will boil, the plausible is buried in demonstrable facts and will have a better chance of being judged truthful.  

At least three generations of science fiction writers have used such techniques as these to make a plausible proposition, such as life on Mars, or space colonization, or sophisticated life forms on a level with humans seem real to the point where the reader accepts the leap in truth.  The reader's tendency to disbelieve is suspended, the plausible is accepted as actual.

In other categories of fiction, which itself implies the use of plausibility to suggest a framework that may be considered a truthful rendition, magic is presented as plausible in fantasy, historical eras are drawn from a combination of fact and imagination, then presented as fact, and an entire concept of invented reality, the Alternate Universe, blossoms forth as a truthful simulacrum.

In recent weeks a number of citizens of the sovereign State of Texas, including some of their own elected officials and elected officials from other sovereign states have embraced a series of related details as a plausible scenario in which a  highly unlikely conspiracy will be played out.  In that scenario, a state of martial law will be declared, Federal forces will occupy the State of Texas, and as if that were not enough, when the incumbent President of the United States' term of office expires in February of 2016, martial law will be extended and the incumbent will somehow seize continued power to remain in office.

A significant number of adults believe this to the point where the State of Texas National Guard was put on alert in the face of assurances from various Federal agencies that this scenario was not true, nor was it plausible.  And yet, in the minds of a number of adult Texans, this scenario still extends beyond conjecture, beyond plausibility, and into the realm of truth.

You use plausibility as a tool, attempting to create characters who are accepted as viable, functional person.  These individuals engage moral and emotional problems made to seem real by pushing these characters to the limits and boundaries of the artificial circumstances you have created for them.  At this point, you devise even more extreme circumstances before pushing these inventions over the invented edge so that you may observe their responses.

People have been accepting the manufactured worlds of story since long before printed language, in effect ingesting legend and history as forms of plausible narrative.  The Iliad or Homeric account of the Trojan war was a plausible narrative.  So were the historical narratives of Hesiod and Herodotus, both plausible representations of actual behavior, or "things that really happened."

Only today, you received a letter from a reader of one of your recent books, finding it wonderful except in a place where it was not plausible, and asking you to explain, which meant for the writer of the letter that what you wrote believing it to be true was not plausible without explanation to him.




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