>>I see this a lot with lawyers, doctors, and law enforcement who query me about books that "don't take liberties with the facts!" and are thus often short on plot.
I read a book with a female protagonist who is a retired police chief. I did end up finishing it, but I lost confidence in the author when much of the tension relied upon her habit of having the MC go into sticky situations without any sort of backup, which a retired police chief would NEVER do. I don't care whether she's retired. She's NOT gonna go against 30+ years of training and experience to meet someone alone behind the pagoda at midnight, who might be the killer. Some of the situations were laughable, like the teenage girls in horror stories who grab a flashlight (because the power went out on a dark and stormy night) to check on a noise in the basement.
I understand “take liberties with the facts.” Especially if it's not supposed to be a non-fiction account. But it's very different from “take liberties with reality.” I'll throw a book across the room if the prosecutor calls the defendant to the witness stand at trial. And altho I did finish it, the book I just mentioned was the only book I've read by that author.
Give me a good story. But unless there's a good explanation [Carkoon, a dream, etc] don't make me cringe at the sheer unreality of it.
This is a really good point, and I want to steal the line "take liberties with reality."
Someone going into a darkened building at night, alone, after an unknown voice on the phone says "I'll tell you who murdered Felix Buttonweezer but only if you come alone with no backup" doesn't fail the logic test because a retired police chief would never do this. It fails the logic test because no sane person would do this.
There's a phrase for it: TSTL*
If your characters are doing something that's too stupid to live, that's just bad writing. Sure some cheesy horror movies require the trope of the negligee clad co-ed carrying a candle going into the basement cause she heard noises, but no one is expecting authenticity in Halloween 29.
And if your book is a campy send up, sure, tiptoe away.
But mostly, you're writing books that require people to behave somewhat believably.
Which means your characters CAN do things that aren't proper procedure, and might not be what they were trained to do. Who among us hasn't broken a rule or ten? Me me me for sure, and that's just today.
If you know your character is going to do something they shouldn't, there needs to be a reason. Overt or implied, but your reader should believe there's a reason.
Half the fun of Beverly Hills Cop is watching Axel Foley get yelled at for going against the regs. We know why he's doing it. In fact, in the same situation, we would do it too.
Each reader has a different tolerance for what they can overlook. I insist on historical and geographical accuracy, but I absolutely believe dragons can fly.
Bottom line: If your protagonist is doing things s/he shouldn't make sure it's clear why, and that your reader sympathizes. And of course, your antagonist should be doing many things s/he should not be, but just desserts are on the menu!