I was reading a really cool mystery just yesterday. It was set in an area I’ve never been to, the heroine was someone I truly liked and the mystery was intriguing. And then it happened. The heroine did something so stupid, so out of character, I couldn’t believe it was the same person I’d just spent 15 chapters reading about. And I wanted to throw the book against the wall.
You hear about it all the time in real life, the mass murderer who neighbors talk about as such a nice, quiet fellow, the wonderful mother who abandons her children, the out of character real life events that we all know happen. But when it happens in fiction, it better have a reason.
And I’ll tell you my personal belief on why that is. Writers go on and on about the suspension of belief in fiction and about how people will put their trust in a writer until they find they’ve been mislead. I personally believe it is simpler than that.
I think we read to make sense of the world around us. If everyone is snarky at the large company you work for and you read a book about a character who works in a big corporation and is disgusted by the politics, you don’t feel so alone. It is a vent.
But we identify with our heroes and heroines. And we want to believe we would react the way they do. So when a character reacts stupidly, out of character, and against all logic, we can’t identify. We are back with not understanding, at least the world of that book. Back to being alone.
And that’s not why we read.