One of the things I think about as a writer of fiction is how to convince (or persuade) a reader that the story she is reading is—or could be—true. Of course, most readers of a book labeled "novel" realize that neither the characters nor the situation are "real." They are the author's creation. Still, if the author is skillful enough, we are willing to accept that this could have happened; these people might have lived and talked and acted the way the author presents them.
This is true even when the characters inhabit a world we know does not exist: Narnia, the Mars of Martian Chronicles, a post-apocalyptic America. We are willing to accept the impossible (time travel, faster-than-light drive, magic) for the pleasure of the story, the characters, the writing, the conceit, or all four.
I've just seen Woody Allen's latest film, "Midnight in Paris." It hinges on the possibility of time travel. A hack Hollywood writer is in Paris with his fiance and her parents. One evening, alone and tipsy, he is invited at midnight into an ancient Peugeot and finds himself in the 1920s hobnobbing with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and more. Indeed, with virtually ever famous artist and writer who was working in Paris in the 20s. It happens more than once when he is entirely sober, so the experience is not the result of alcohol. This I can accept.
At one point, apparently browsing the Seine-side used book kiosks, the writer finds a diary of the 1920s written in French by a woman he has actually met; she mentions him by name in her diary. The American writer, who speaks no French, finds a young, good-looking French woman to translate the significant passage aloud. This I cannot accept. It raises too many questions for me. He doesn't have any French; how does he find the book? How does he convince a stranger to read it to him?
I am not sure why I am willing to accept that an American Hollywood screenwriter of 2011 can be transported back to Paris of the 1920s, but I cannot accept that the American can find a specific French book when he speaks no French. Does anyone else have this problem with books or movies? Does anyone have a theory why this should be so? Comments are welcome.