Is ‘Unrealistic’ Fiction Same as ‘Implausible’?
I am no stranger to rejection. It’s routine for any writer. Most writers count their blessings when ten, twenty, or more rejections are followed by that one sweet, sweet acceptance. It’s a numbers game and not for the faint of heart.
I received recently a most baffling yet complimentary rejection. The editors wrote in a personal note that they were delighted to read the story. They admired my style and even found passages compelling and well-crafted. All encouraging. Then came the zinger: they felt the story seemed “a little unrealistic.”
Had they written “implausible” I’d have considered ways to rework the story. That’s a sure bugaboo. But unrealistic . . . hmmm. Are they not sharing my fictive dream? I live for the fictive dream. (I came to believe long ago that so-called non-fiction is conjured, well-crafted fiction—memory and imagination live in the same part of the brain. But that’s another debate for later.) I’m still mulling over did they really mean implausible? And if so, which aspect of the short story? This being a respected literary publication, I like to believe they choose their words carefully. Yet, I’m left to wonder.
Merriam Webster defines implausible as provoking disbelief; plausible as worthy of belief; unrealistic as inappropriate to reality or fact; realistic as of, relating to, or marked by literary or artistic realism with realism meaning accurately representing what is natural or real.
What would they have replied to a short story from a once-burgeoning writer, Gabriel García Márquez? Sorry we love the magical part but not realistic enough.
My story revolves around a woman who bore a son while living in Mexico, then left him to be reared by his father when he was about 10 years old. She experienced deep depression in the village and needed to return “to her century.” Her depression begins to lift when, State-side, she befriends a sassy woman who starts an informal club of women devoted to being child-free. So she guards her secret motherhood, even as she bonds tightly with the three women who “don’t get the child thing.” Ten more or less serene years pass before some incident provokes her need to spill the truth and dénouement allows the truth, or reality, to prevail in this fictive dream.
I’m imagining it seems unreal that a mother abandons her child to his father. Yet I personally know at least three men who have raised their child when the mother left. Certainly the groundswell of women who do not want to bear children is real. My women also celebrate the womb as a source of creativity—they have fashioned a Womb Room for various rituals. Real enough to me, in my experience. Let me add I realize that a collection of realities do not add up to a story shaped in a way that seems believable. But, but, but.
After some contemplation, I want to keep my story as is—although tweaks here and there might be welcome. In fact, after the initial let down and disappointment, I’m starting to feel unrealistic is a compliment. Move over, Garbriel García Márquez.
I worked with a talented editor on my collection, Messages From the Womb, of which this story is the final one. Among her suggestions and edits, there was one suggestion of implausible (she used different wording) in above story and I fixed that. (For the record, she is a mother of one and didn’t balk at the overall plot points.)
The rejection note is especially edifying as, like many writers, I’ve come to not expect a personal response to submissions. The standard rule is “no response equals no acceptance.” The cruel silence of slow torturous rejection is ours, dear writers. In the old days, when a writer could submit only by U.S. mail, editors were invariably more courteous than today’s. I averaged 100 percent response to my submissions or queries. The rejections, even if form letters, occasionally offered personal advice or helpful critique. Those days are mostly gone.
Nor would I ask for clarification of the meaning of unrealistic. Having been an editor on a magazine for 17 years — nonfiction—I had to send pithy rejections to many good queries. If someone pursued me for more indepth response, I’d likely not have had time to respond.
In the end, I am delighted to receive a careful well-thought-out rejection from a venerable literary journal. The rejection ends on a positive note, encouraging me to send more work for them to consider. Which I will do in the fullness of time.