As a storyteller, you must be trustworthy. Have your characters respond in ways that are reasonable, that make sense. You want readers absorbed and turning pages. Keep that acorn of suspended disbelief spinning.
It’s fatal to jolt your readers into thinking. That sounds wrong, I know, but it only takes one “That’s stupid!” thought to pull a reader out of a story. This is a bad thing. Once your book is closed and set aside, it could be for good.
So keep it real. Even if you’re writing high comedy (as in the excerpt below) your characters’ actions must make sense, well… for them. They must be believable.
A clash of the opposites…do I pull it off? We have Lady Russell, staunch friend and law-abiding citizen—and a respecter of the titled gentry—attempting to rescue Sir Walter from a soon-to-be-issued warrant for arrest. The bankruptcy is his own fault—but he, a superior being, does not share her anxiety.
Since leaving the bailiff’s, a transformation had taken place. The lines that worry and illness had etched on Sir Walter’s handsome face were now smoothed away. He gazed out of the window of Lady Russell’s carriage with obvious delight. They were very near to their destination now. “I had quite forgotten about your little house, Amanda,” he said. “Rivers Street is a charming situation—a most charming situation!”
The carriage came to a stop, but Lady Russell did not appear to notice. “I cannot understand it,” she said, frowning. “That bailiff was so insistent about knowing your address! I cannot like that.”
Sir Walter smiled slyly. “Was I not clever to give him Anne’s?”
“But you were seen to be leaving with me. When that second warrant is issued, the bailiff will come here.” Outside, Lady Russell’s coachman let down the steps and attempted to open the door, but she held it closed. Then she pulled down the window blind. “Sir Walter,” she said urgently. “You will not be well hidden here.”
Sir Walter blinked. “But you said—“
“I know what I said, but my friend, you are not safe! I fear we must leave Somerset earlier than planned. In fact, we ought to leave tonight!”
“Tonight?” he squeaked. “Why, that will never do!” He looked about anxiously. “Surely…your…coachman must have time to prepare. Yes, that’s it! After all, one must travel properly. I was hoping,” he added, “to have my crest painted over Sir Henry Russell’s before our departure.”
Lady Russell’s fingers dug into his arm. “Don’t you understand?” she cried. “We daren’t use this vehicle! We must travel to London secretly!”
Sir Walter considered this. “Do you mean…in disguise?”
Lady Russell waved aside his boyish grin. “We must travel in the Mail Coach. Longwell will know how to manage it.”
Sir Walter clapped his hands. “I say, that’s famous! I’ve always fancied to travel in disguise!” His smile became cunning. “I’ll go dressed as a highwayman!”
“A tradesman would be best,” said Lady Russell. “Or a common laborer.”
Both eyebrows went up. “Common?” Sir Walter scoffed. “Me? Impossible!”
For tomorrow, she who is Too Stupid to Live.
[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: So Lively a Chase by Laura Hile, 2009]