You read my title and said, "Get real."
Get real. Or never get picked up by an agent.
As a writer of urban fantasy, I have to convince my readers that Samuel McCord and his friends and enemies are real,
or they will never accept my fantastical setting and plot into their minds.
No matter what you write, you must do the same. Or the readers will never become absorbed into your novel.
How to do that?
1) "God and Country" ain't what it used to be.
Duty and honor were once valid motivations. But Shakespeare is dead.
This is the "Me" generation. Even if you're writing about a woman in the 1700's, you are not writing FOR them.
Abigail Adams sacrificed much for her husband and family. But her letters showed a woman who insisted on owning her own property and money (very much NOT the custom of the time.)
All of us have had to deal with a situation, not because it was honorable, but because it was heaved into our laps.
Abigail comes across as real because her letters showed she resented her husband's ambition that took him from his children and her so often and for so long. She fumed at his inability to get along with others.
Ambition, vanity, irritability -- she saw his warts. But they were warts on a face she loved. We can "buy" a woman who sees clearly but loves deeply.
2) Ah, Love ...
"Put the rat cage on her. On her!"
In 1984, Winston is tortured by the Thouht Police until he finally breaks and screams for his tormenter to put the rat cage on Julia, the woman he "loves."
Sex is a primal motivator not love. Man will sacrifice much for love but generally there must be a good chance of success, or your average reader will feel your novel is cliche not real.
Your hero may be different and sacrifice all for love, but that extremism must apply to all facets of his life or your reader will not "buy" your hero.
3.) Curiosity killed the cat ... and the bad novel.
Without curiosity, fire and most of Man's discoveries would never have been made. But as with love, there is a limit to how much we will sacrifice for curiosity.
When a mother's children are threatened by her curiosity, she will generally grudgingly back off. Up the punishment enough, and all of us curious types will say, "I'm outta here!"
But by the time that moment comes, realistically, it is too late. And that leads us to the next point :
4) Self-preservation or
"I'll miss you terribly, but that last life preserver is mine!"
We like to think the world is a nice place. But try being an ill, frail woman on a crowded bus and see how selfless most people are.
To continue when threats to his life are enormous, your main character must have more than self-preservation to keep on -- perhaps he/she cannot depend on the promises or threats of the adversary to keep his/her children and spouse safe.
Or as so often in life, the hero simply has no choice but to go on. The bee hive has been toppled -- and it's simply run or be stung to death.
5) Greed or
"Excuse me; is that my hand in your pocket?"
Greed is good -- as Michael Douglas once said. But only up to a point.
For one thing, greed is not something which endears our hero to the reader. Another, shoot at most greedy folks, and they will head for more hospitable hills.
5) Revenge consumes ... the individual and the reader's patience.
Revenge is understandable but not heroic. In historical or Western novels, where justice was bought or simply non-existent, revenge is a valid motivation ... often justified under the rationalization, justice.
Revenge in our civilized times must occur when lapses in order happen. Say when civilization died with the power in New Orleans during and after Katrina.
Revenge on your adversary's part must be understandable, or your plot will become cliche. Revenge must be supplemented with other aspects of the character.
Say a priest, defending his flock of homeless during Katrina, must choke off his desire for revenge for a raped little girl to stay by his remaining flock to protect them. Playing the desire for revenge against love for helpless family can lend depth to your novel -- making it real.
For who of us has not burned for revenge against a tresspass against us but had to bite back the darkness within?
6) We want to believe ...
Despite all the harsh things I've said of love (and by inference, friendship), the reader wants to believe ...
A) that when the moment comes, we can reach within ourselves and find the hero hiding there.
B) that love can survive dark, hard times if we but simply refuse to let go of it.
C) that humor and wit can overcome the larger, stronger predator -- that we can become Ulysses challenging the gods -- and winning.
7) Give your readers a semblance of reality while still giving them the three things that they want to believe of themselves and of life -- and your novel will be a bestseller.
Oh, you want to know why the Angelina Jolie photo? She got your attention, didn't she? LOL.
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