When editing, editors and agents are readers first. Our job is to eliminate anything that slows the pace, weakens the characters, and makes us question the believability of a book because yes, even fiction needs to be believable, no matter how outlandish the story might seem. For readers to really love a book they need to believe that a small town bookstore owner is tasked with solving a murder every month, you need to believe that a flock of blackbirds are really the spirits of dead ancestors, and you need to believe that an insomnia epidemic has swept the world. Anything you can’t believe when reading these books immediately pulls you from the story and, truthfully, ruins it for you. One of my many jobs as an agent and editor is to make sure your adventure isn’t ruined.
The other day, James was reviewing a manuscript from one of our other agents and he asked whether something or another is possible. It’s how this conversation first evolved. Something can be completely possible, it could have even happened to you, but if the reader isn’t made to feel it’s believable it’s not working in the story.
What I told James he needed to do was flag that scene for the author. When editing I need to make every book as rejection-proof as possible and if anything niggles at me as something that isn’t working its my responsibility to let the author know. Whether it can happen or not isn’t the issue, whether you make the reader believe it can happen is.
When faced with a flag like this it’s the author’s responsibility to take a deep look at what she’s writing and not argue whether or not it can really happen, but look at how it can be made believable to the reader.