Monday, April 30, 2012

WTF? No, really....

Last week I posted about the big WHY, why we have to make the reader NEED to know why things happened, so they’ll keep reading.

But there’s another question, one you as the writer needs to make sure the reader never asks…the dreaded “WTF?!”

The WTF (“What The Fruitloops?” for those of you of more delicate leanings) is something that can kill your book faster than a tan line burns at a nude beach.

This dreaded affliction occurs when the author needs something to happen, or someone to have done something, and just does it. On a chess board it would mean ignoring all the rules about moves and taking the Queen on your first move just by picking your piece up and sending it over.

It’s easy to do, and sometimes writers who are prone to fast down and dirty rough drafts will skip steps thinking they’ll go back later and fill it in. The problem appears when they don’t go back and fix it, or when a writer gets sloppy, lazy, or doesn’t have a few beta readers to save their rear.

Sloppy and lazy are not good attributes for any writer. If you care enough to write- don’t shoot yourself in the foot because you got sloppy or lazy. Always ask yourself the why question in terms of why did your characters do that action? Is the tension between them believable or convenient? Does their behavior make sense? You have to be brutally honest when you start poking around. Since YOU know how the story goes, it could very well seem real and believable to you because your mind is filling in the missing pieces.

But unless your readers are all going to set up camp in your crowded cranium, they need to be able to follow a logical and believable path to your conclusions (whether those be actions, thoughts, or dialogue). A good beta reader (or two, or half a dozen) can massively save this from happening.

Another painful WTF moment can come about from not knowing an area. Such as stating someone could leave San Diego, CA and be in San Francisco, CA in five hours- in a car. Or that Pasadena, CA is next to the ocean. Make sure you understand your locations if you’re sticking with the real world. If you’ve got your own world, make it consistent.

Yet another class of WTF troubles, is basic science. Now, you don’t have to assume that your readers all have advanced science degrees, but have a basic understanding. Years ago I read a book where they very carefully made a point of both biological parents having blue eyes. And the kid had huge brown eyes. I don’t recall the book, but that was a big ‘WTF?’ moment for me, and I think that, combined with other issues, caused the book to be tossed into the donate bin.

For those of you who have forgotten their college biology, two blue eyed folks can’t produce a brown eyed kid (go look up recessive genes online- it CANNOT happen). Two brown eyed parents could create blue eyed kids, but not the other way around. Now, not everyone remembers that, but for those who do- it’s going to cause some problems. Yeah, eye color isn’t a big thing, but anything that can knock the reader out of YOUR world and back into their own is a bad thing.

So make sure that you are making your readers ask the RIGHT questions (the ones you have built for them to ask) and not the wrong ones.

What about you, when you read and/ or write, what "WTF?" moments have tripped you up?

Thanks for coming by!


  1. One of the most painful things for me is not knowing anything about the location. In this day and age of the internet, info is only a click away. Why can't someone look up whether one city is north or south of another when traveling in a certain direction? I mean how hard is that?
    I have thrown a book across the room just because of that very thing....

    1. I hear ya Jean! I am so in the same boat. I figure that if they can't get something simple right, how can I trust them? They've already pulled me out of their story once...who knows how many times they'll do it again?

      Thanks for coming by and fighting through to leave a comment :)

  2. Thou shall't not break the reader's trance.

    1. LOL! I love it, Bart! I think we need to have it engraved on the monitor of anyone calling themselves a writer.

      Thanks for coming by and commenting :)

  3. Jean! Another book thrower like me!

    Those WTF moments take me so out of a story it is hard for me to get back into it. I once beta read a short story in which a future beat cop stormed a house to apprehend someone while firing his gun at a rate of a million rounds per second, demolishing doors and walls as he charged on. I went WTF? A million rounds a second? Even if each projectile only weighed 1 gram (and that is impossibly light) each second the cop fired he would have to carry one ton of projectiles. I brought this up with the author only to get a lecture on how it WAS possible to fire a gun that fast, there had been some theoretical work done on such guns. Just because something can be done doesn't mean it will work in a story. He didn't get my point.
    Which leads me to another type of WTF moment, one in which someone researches something but applies it to their story in a way which makes no sense.


    1. Heh- Sharon, maybe we should have a "Book Throwers Club" I'm right there with both you and Jean on that.

      And dang- seriously? I'm sorry, if your sceince is that obscure, that most folks who believe it couldn't be done- don't use it! And if it was essential to the story, that author had many more problems going on than just that ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting Sharon!

  4. Excellent points! When the reader questions the logic of a story most times it won't create a good impression.

    1. Thanks for coming by Tamara :). Yup, if we lose our readers trust, we may not get it back.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. Great post Marie!!!

    I see this often when I critique things. It's almost like the plot overshadows the characters and in order to move the plot forward, the writer forgets to walk a mile in their character's boots!

    If we've gotten to walk with this hero and then he does something completely out of character, the magic of the story is lost and the readers are betrayed... Character motivation is a huge part of taking a book from good to great! :)

    I totally agree with you!

    Lisa :)

    1. Very good points Lisa. Although I'd say that oft times it's that they let character overshadow plot in a way. They forget the plot needs to be plausable or we stop believing in their characters. And for sure it gets lost when they step out of character ;).

      So maybe it's a bit of too much and not enough focus on the plot ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  6. Interestingly enough, the issue of eye color inheritance came up in my daughter's biology class just a few weeks ago, and I got an update through her. Although all us older types were taught in HS/College Bio that two blue-eyed parents can't possibly produce a brown-eyed child (based on a 1907 understanding of genetics, btw), it turns out that more recent research has proven that they CAN.

    From USA Today (14 Oct 2004):

    "Although not common, two blue-eyed parents can produce children with brown eyes," says Richard A. Sturm, a Principal Research Fellow at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

    Eye color is a complex trait that depends on the state of several interacting genes. The gene that usually decides the issue (blue eyes or brown eyes) is the OCA2 gene on chromosome 15. But it comes in different strengths. A person with a weak form of the OCA2 gene will have blue eyes. Likewise a person with a strong form will have brown eyes.

    The plot thickens, though, because an individual also has other eye-color genes that each has a say in the final eye-color outcome. For example, if one of these lesser genes is strong, it can make the weak form (blue) of OCA2 work much more effectively — almost like the strong form (brown). Then the eye color may be a light brown or muddy grey. In fact, the resulting color can be any shade of brown, hazel/green, or blue depending on the strengths of the interactions.


    1. Very interesting! Thanks for posting- my bio class was over 20 years ago- so guess even then they said it couldn't happen.

      Kind of a bummer though- would have made a fun plot point in a book ;).

      Thanks for coming by Lisa!