Fiction writers use a device called suspension of disbelief to entertain their readers. This is done by infusing the story with a sufficient measure of reality so that the reader is willing to accept the fictional elements, not as true but, plausible enough to “suspend disbelief” and play along.
If you’ve ever read a work of fiction in which the characters seemed to come alive or you could “see” the setting—the author has convinced you to suspend disbelief. This happens to me all the time. When it doesn’t, the book ends up unread at the local thrift store.
I think I am more willing than most to give the writer some space to get this done. (That golden rule thing at play.) That said, my patience and willingness are not without their limits.
For me, the great killer of my interest and suspended disbelief happens when the author’s agenda is showing. Now, authors write with an agenda. A message within the story that they wish to tell. This is not usually as complicated as English and Literature teachers make it out to be, but it’s there.
In Bayou Moon, I wanted to tell a werewolf tale because I like werewolves. Sheriff Landry’s solving the murders was the story. Beneath the surface of that story, there was something else I wanted the reader to think about. That something showed up as Landry’s inner struggle with whether duty’s first allegiance was to what was right or what was legal. I think that is often a matter of concern for people of conscience in law enforcement.
If I did it right, the reader got the message without having it shoved in their face or repeated ad nauseum by every character. Modern authors and screenwriters either haven’t been taught this or know they no longer need to nuance it because the audience isn’t thinking in the first place.
The crap I’ve seen from top-shelf writers and on screens large and small has convinced me it is the latter of those two. With the mind of the audience switched off there need be no effort made at a semblance of reality or congruency in setting, dialogue, and character. One can simply change the names of the characters and pitch the same agenda endlessly.
Thankfully, I’m too old to be concerned with the new rules of writing. Readers wanting engagement with the story will be around until I’m dead.