Paul Doiron here—
In the novel I’m currently working on I had a character who was a waitress at an unusual eatery. OK, she was a stripper at a topless donut shop. When I sent in the first draft of my book, my editor replied with shock and disbelief. He couldn’t buy such an establishment was real, let alone a fixture of the Maine countryside.
In my fictional version, there wasn’t even an angry boyfriend driven to arson over sexual jealousy! There was just a woman who took her blouse off to serve crullers. My story was banal by comparison.
We’ve all heard the old saw: truth is stranger than fiction. As a writer, the episode of the topless donut shop has taught me a corollary principle: fiction cannot be as strange as truth. Readers of most crime novels expect their stories to be more or less believable. They’re willing to suspend their disbelief when it comes to the astronomically high rate of homicides in St. Mary-Mead, but only if they trust that Agatha Christie is playing fair with them. The rules of the game are extremely important in the mystery genre; they must be announced at the outset and followed assiduously. Woe to the careless writer who breaks them.
So, as much as I’d love to send a packet of clippings from the BDN to my editor’s office in the Flat Iron Building, I am forced to admit he has a valid point. My novels work because of their verisimilitude. If the characters and settings don’t feel real to the reader, the stories fall apart. Truth be damned.
Upon deep reflection, therefore, I have decided that my fictional waitress should keep her top on for the sake of all involved. Judging by what happened at the Grand View, it’s probably just as well.
PS: The best commentary I’ve read on this immensely enjoyable newspaper series comes, as usual, from Twitter:
— jessi leigh (@JessiLeigh) December 16, 2011