One of the headiest responsibilities that a writer has—especially a speculative fiction writer—is the responsibility to create a grounded, coherent, and believable world in which to set the story. Speaking just for myself, this is a huge fucking pain in the ass. And I have immense respect for people who can pull it off seamlessly.
I recently finished the audiobook of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. For the most part, I enjoyed it. However, there was one major thing that drastically reduced my suspension of disbelief.
This is going to contain mild spoilers for Throne, so, you know. Caveat lector.
My beef stems from one of the fundamental aspects of the plot: there are mysterious murders taking place throughout the castle. The perpetrator is unknown, and the method is heinous. One corpse is described as having been torn to ribbons. Later, more detailed descriptions are offered: every corpse’s entrails have been removed. Same with the brain. The victims have been gutted as thoroughly as possible.
Somehow, this doesn’t seem like any cause for alarm for the characters. The murders remain a footnote—a footnote with its brains removed and its guts scooped out—for the majority of the novel. The characters instead invest their focus in the ongoing competition, in romantic banter, and in courtly intrigue.
I should think that the entire castle would be in raw panic after the second disemboweled corpse showed up in a low-traffic castle hallway.
This disconnect—between the brutal nature of the murders and the cavalier response of the protagonists—did horrible things to my capacity to buy into the world of the story. It really highlighted how important it is for characters to respond sensibly and realistically to other characters and events—it maintains that verisimilitude, that veneer of reality for the character. It’s that waking dream aspect of stories: as soon as you can detect that something is off, everything is boned. No matter how totally rad the rest of it is, there’s still that strike against reality itself.
So make sure your characters act like people. It’ll help things turn out for the best.
How about you lot? Is there anything that just completely removes you from a story when you see it? Share it in the comments!