Verisimilitude – the appearance of being true or real (Oxford Dictionaries)
Writing is always a balancing act. You want to transport your reader, to take them on a journey, possibly have them experience things that they wouldn’t normally experience through your characters. So why the need for realism, for truth? After all, this is fiction right?
Well, yes it is, and in a way, writing fiction is lying. We writers of fiction spend our days lying. But as anyone who has ever successfully lied to their parents about where they were the night before, or to their teacher about where their homework is, or to their boss about how they were really sick the day before and just couldn’t possibly have made it to work, the secret of a good lie is that it rings true.
Fiction is just like that. You are methodically, carefully and imaginatively building a world for your characters. A world that doesn’t exist. The appearance of truth is essential to help build that world, that lie. One wrong move, one wrong word and the illusion collapses.
So how do you ensure that you keep the ‘reality’ of your fictional world intact? Here are the pitfalls to avoid:
- Something unusual happening in your fictional world that you haven’t prepared your reader for
- A character that notices something they wouldn’t notice in real life, says something they wouldn’t say, or does something they wouldn’t do
- In fantasy, a character not using a skill that you have given them when they should do so
- Unrealistic dialogue that is used to convey information
- In historical fiction particularly, an object, custom, behaviour that didn’t exist or wouldn’t have happened in the time in which your novel is set
- This is as important in fiction as it is in films. For example, if your character has his hands handcuffed behind his back, don’t have them in front of him two minutes later (as happened in Reservoir Dogs).
Much of writing is about building believable and compelling worlds, but those worlds must follow a logic that the reader can relate to, understand, and around which you can create interesting and dynamic stories.