And I smile along with everyone else. But of course it’s not true. “It really happened” has never been a measure of whether a particular event is plausible in a novel.
Even if an author is basing a novel on true-life events, readers still expect to see that plot events follow the laws of cause-and-effect, that significant plot twists are foreshadowed and don’t just drop out of nowhere, and that characters have goals that drive plot events.
It doesn’t matter if at the eleventh hour the author bought a winning lottery ticket and saved their house from foreclosure. Readers aren’t going to buy that – and they’re not going to consider it a satisfactory resolution to a novel.
A plot event has to seem true, as if it could happen, given the story world, the characters, and the theme.
There is life and then there is story. They are two different things. We want story to reflect or illuminate life in some way but story does not and should not imitate life, or we would all wander off by page thirty to find something good to read.
So, rest assured: you haven’t written your last editorial query suggesting the author rethink the plausibilty of a plot event!