0

This post is part advice and part discussion.

How do you determine if a story's premise is believable?

Is the believability of a story's premise more of a demographic thing? Do people determine how believable a story is based on their demographic (e.g. sex, gender, or race) or their favorite genre? Is a story more or less believable depending on how closely it matches your ideology?

And what do you do if your alpha readers or beta readers feel that your story is unbelievable?

I'm writing a story about a gay Superman who is born on a Nazi version of Krypton and is forced to become a slave because he's gay. It's a dystopian superhero sci-fi story. The planet is ruled by literal supermen space Nazis.

On my gay MC's planet, everyone is as strong as a Kryptonian from the Superman comics or a Viltrumite from the Invincible comics. They can also fly like Viltrumites. In other words, each citizen on my MC's planet is as strong as either Omniman, Superman, Supergirl, or Wonderwoman.

The story is like if Omniman decided to rebel against the Viltrumites and rally Viltrumites on to his side to defeat the Viltrum emperor and save the universe from beings enslaved by the Viltrum empire.

One of my family members says that the story isn't believable because my MC is the strongest person in the kingdom, but he's forced to be a slave and work in dangerous and highly toxic mines because he's a gay man. In this world, only gay men are slaves while all women are only allowed to have sex and give birth to new soldiers.

I told him that I'm basing the planet's ideology on the Nazi ideology, and I argued that the Nazis put gay people in concentration camps. But he still didn't find the story believable.

My MC is only strong enough to fight off about 3 dozen soldiers at a time on his planet, but the empire has a hundred million soldiers and he couldn't possibly defeat them all.

My relative doesn't like the idea of a gay MC. He said that my story is bad because my MC is gay,and his full explanation was that he didn't find the premise believable.

He also said that gay readers prefer straight MCs, but I'm not sure if this is actually true.I didn't find any evidence online that suggests that gay readers prefer heterosexuals MCs.

I want to investigate the idea of making my story more believable to readers who are reflexively skeptical of my story's themes.

2
  • 2
    So ... out of "gay Superman who is born on a Nazi version of Krypton and is forced to become a slave because he's gay ... the planet is ruled by literal supermen space Nazis" the bit he found unbelievable was "gay"? :-) Jan 27 at 0:10
  • 1
    Not enough for an answer, but: your family member is almost certainly dealing with some... bias. Ignore them. Write your gay superman story. --- Separately, having your MC start as the strongest superman is probably not satisfying, mostly because readers would expect him to physically fight from the beginning. There's a certain irony in having some aspect of his slavery unlock his full potential - the societal disgrace is supposed to break him but instead it is a source of strength.
    – codeMonkey
    Feb 2 at 21:12

4 Answers 4

2

The credibility of a story depends for the most part on its consistency. In other words, even the wildest and weirdest elements of your story can be believable if they belong to the world you have crafted and can be explained by deductive logic and reasoning.

Exhibit A: Star Wars. Light sabers are ridiculously unrealistic. Yet they are a very appealing mix of old fashioned weapons (swords) and sci-fi elements (laser). People loved it, accetepd it, even though they knew light sabers cannot exist in our slice of reality. But in the sci-fi universe of Star Wars light sabers are accepted because that universe is futuristic enough to open up possibilities that seem unrealistic to us in the here and now we're living in. There are space ships and a guy with black suit and a little green guy and planets and these desert people selling robots - sure, why not a lightsaber. Lasers are cool and part of a space ship's standard equipment. Lasers are part of the world. At some sunny day back in the Old Days some crafty engineer finally succeeded in making a sword-like weapon out of it and called them light sabers.

Grab a sci-fi movie from the 50s or 60s and check how they pictured the 2000s. Back then that stuff was cool and seemed possible. People accepted flying cars, space stations, robots, you name it. With computers, Sputnik, and all the other new stuff anything seemed possible.

Exhibit B: Lord of the rings. A man sets out to reach a volcano in order to destroy a magic ring which could potentially destroy the world he's living in. A magic ring. In order for this to be acceptable you have to create a world where unnatural things are possible, acceptable. Where a magical item such as the ring is not even not uncommon but only one of many rings which have been worn by kings. There are wizards, dwarves, hobbits, strange folk in a different world. The whole setting reminds us of a fairy tale where magical things are possible, even part of the world. Why not a ring?

Light sabers are possible and acceptable in a universe where it's absolutely normal to travel with light speed. You don't have to explain it, it just has to fit in, has to be consistent with everything else.

A magical ring is absolutely possible within a world which is inhabited by dragons (RIP Smaug), dwarves, and a guy who's reduced to an eye on top of a dark tower.

It's consistency within a world that makes a premise believable.

A gay superman? If he's part of a species that procreates by conventional means (not like breeding eggs or something) than sure, it's absolutely believable that there are straight, gay, other individuals. He's enslaved? Explain why your Nazi-like citizens hate gays but also why they prefer to enslave them instead of the sick stuff they did in our reality. As long it's consistent and logic within the bounds of your world, I as a reader can believe it. If done right the reader is able to deduce why things happened or why an evil eye on top of a tower is possible.

Take the feedback you've been given serious and get back to your story. Try to explain why things happened, why the Nazis took over, how, and so on. Make sure one step of your chain of reasoning is based on the previous one so on. Don't just make things up and glue them together.

4

I'm not going to give you feedback on your story.

The believability of a story depends on:

  • the subjective reality of the readers
  • genre conventions
  • internal consitency

The more a story conforms to the every experiences of the readers (or, more specifically, their interpretations of those experiences), the more believable it will be. Horses are believable in this sense, dragons aren't, or less so.

A story that is unrealistic (in that it does not conform to the readers' reality) can still be believable if it conforms to the expectations that the readers have, given their experience with the genre your story belongs to. Dragons are believable in Fantasy, spaceships aren't (in Fantasy), though the latter are believable in another genre (Science Fiction).

If a story is both unrealistic and deviates from genre conventions, it can still be believable if it doesn't contradict itself. If in your story everyone has been able to fly from the first page until page 215, it is believable that someone flies on page 216. But if there was no mention of people flying before, then someone suddenly flying is potentially unbelievable.

Does your story follow all of some of these three principles, especially the last one, or do you force some new and random fantastic skill or creature onto your readers on every other page?

3

The believability of a story doesn't depend on the believability of its premise. The reader is always willing to suspend their disbelief for the premise. Doesn't matter how outlandish and unrealistic the premise is.

The believability of a story depends on how plausible it is for the story to unwind the way it does, given the premise. In other words, self-consistence.

So, your protagonist is a) gay in a setting where gay men are generally made into slaves, and b) super strong.

Nothing wrong so far. (Doylistically speaking. Lots of wrong in-universe, obviously.)

But to make him actually a slave, you need a little more than that.

First of all, sexual orientation isn't as easily traced as ethnicity, so there's probably already a chapter of the story in how he was caught with a lover or something. I'm sure you've thought of this.

Regarding his super strength, make sure that it's plausible that he'd be kept in slavery - not only in the sense that he isn't able to easily escape, but also that the... guards? - consider him enough of an asset and not too much of a danger, so that it makes sense for them to keep him as a slave rather than kill him.

If your relative objects to having a gay protagonist, then I wonder if a) your relative is homophobic, or b) you're not good at portraying a gay character. Sure, a gay reader might be a lot happier with a well-written straight protagonist than with a badly written, stereotypical gay protagonist - but not because they object to gay but because they object to bad writing and stereotype. (They might even be happier with a badly written straight protagonist than a badly written gay protagonist simply because the bad writing doesn't hit so close to home.) But that isn't what you aspire to, you're at least trying to write your protagonist well. And gay readers generally do wish for some well-written representation of their demographics in fiction - same as any other overlooked demographic group.

1

Get several opinions

Your family member may just have - as you say - a reflexively sceptical reaction about a gay protagonist. He might feel uncomfortable with the concept of a gay main character and state his personal opinion as fact as people often do. But taking one other person's opinion to form your own is not a good idea.

While getting someone else's input is great for getting a new perspective and giving you new angles to think about, it's not so great if you're just going to rely on their opinions, for that you need a more diverse pool of readers.

For example, he has a point about: How could a man who can defeat 36 guards in a fight be kept in slavery? But this is something you have to take on board, and address, not something that makes your story unusable.

I would add, BTW, that even if the majority of your test readers don't like the idea of a gay main character, I wouldn't call it a show-stopper. A lot of writing is about pushing boundaries, and while society has moved on and being gay isn't as controversial as it once was, it does feel unusual to many people, such that it occupies the front of the mind of even non-homophobic people as they read even if they have to say to themselves, "...not that there's anything wrong with that". But you can continue your story in spite of this, or at least to normalise it.

Finally:

He also said that gay readers prefer straight MCs, but I'm not sure if this is actually true.

... well there's one good way to find out!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.