Tuesday, January 16, 2018


by Rick Blechta

My bewilderment increases every time I run across some of mankind’s stranger beliefs. Take those who believe the earth is flat and the fact the vast majority of humanity thinks it’s a sphere is simply the result of a massive conspiracy on the part of governments, scientists, corporations, and “those people” who are actually controlling this planet. How is it possible to believe this? Do they honestly think a conspiracy to hide their “truth” has been successfully carried out for literally centuries?

One thing I’ve learned over the course of my life is that if someone believes something strongly enough, the chances of convincing them otherwise is pretty close to nil.

I suppose showing the flat earthers photos of our planet taken from space, photos of other planets, looking at the moon outside their own front doors would be met with protestations that everything was faked by “them”. Taking them up in a plane high enough to see the curve of the earth (like in a flight between continents) would be met with “It’s all an optical illusion”.

I’ve just used one example of bizarre beliefs. There are many others — many that would be very contentious to state. That’s not my aim. This is not a matter of “I’m right and your wrong.”

Whether you believe somebody else’s beliefs are absolutely screwy, you should in the end respect their beliefs. It’s what they believe in their hearts. To them it is The Truth.

In writing convincing fiction, this is a very important concept to embrace and understand. Terrorists believe so wholeheartedly in something to be willing to do horrible things and lay down their lives doing them. That’s very heavy duty, to believe something that strongly. As an author, it is our job to make this understandable to our readers.

Once a writer understands the belief concept, convincing characters with strong beliefs will become more believable. How many times have we all, as readers, put down a book because something a character did was just too unbelievable. The fault lies with the author who didn’t — or couldn’t — understand and hence wasn’t able to convey the character’s very strong belief in the character’s actions that was needed for the plot to work. Groundwork should have been laid beforehand and it wasn’t because the author was unable to perceive this fault in his/her writing.

So don’t try to change flat earthers minds, try to understand them. Your readers will thank you.


Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Oh yes. It's a good writer than can make us empathise with a fictional character but an especially clever one that can make us empathise with a horrible and/or apparently crazy fictional character. I'm thinking off hand of Hannibal Lecter, or more recently, Frank Griffin in the Netflix series Godless, where we are given glimpses into the man's past, revealing why a young, innocent boy could become such a truly nasty and horrible character. I think a reader will empathise with almost any fictional character if we writers can show the true motivation behind said character's behaviour and reveal there is some goodness in them somewhere, no matter how bad – or crazy – they appear to be.

Rick Blechta said...

We're currently watching the Bosch series on Amazon. The first season's focal point is a serial killer who is an exceptionally vile psychopath. The actor portraying this character (Jason Gedrick) does a good job with the part, but it's only in the eighth episode (of 10) that we're being given some idea of WHY this character is behaving the way he is. It works in a TV drama, but would seriously not work in a book. I'm not saying that Michael Connelly would have fallen into this way of plotting, but something like this would seriously damage a novel's readability for me -- even a Connelly book.

However, I can recommend the series. What I've seen of it is very, very good.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Thanks for Bosch series tip, Rick! I agree TV dramas can get away with stuff that books cant. Ultimately, as you said, it's all about making our characters credible to the reader, regardless of how crazy/evil they may seem.

Donis Casey said...

I read a research report a few years ago by a group of university psychologists saying that when one challenges a person's deeply held beliefs, he tends to hold on to them even more tightly, even in the face of irrefutable evidence. That report has made me skeptical about my everything, even my own beliefs...

Eileen Goudge said...

Political views, too, can be as entrenched as the views of those who believe the earth is flat. We have only to look to our recent presidential election! Everything that doesn't parse with the beliefs of some falls under the category of "fake news."

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Donis and Eileen, interestingly I read a recent report that said the best way to change another's opinion is by sharing our opinions in normal conversation/discourse with those around us. It makes some sense, I think.

Rick Blechta said...

In my experience, Marianne, it is nearly impossible to change concepts/perceptions/beliefs that are very tightly held. More loosely held ones? Maybe, but people, frankly, have a hard time admitting they're wrong especially when they've been very vocal about something. There is public “face” that will be lost and many people cannot face that.

The point is, though, that fiction writers have to give a character enough depth so that something they do or say that happens to be WAY off the charts is utterly believable or the author risks losing readers. It’s a tough balancing act to dole out the just information to accomplish this and not sidetrack an otherwise tight plot.

At least it is for me!

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks, everyone, for the great comments!