One of the first questions I was asked while starting my writing career in college was, “Why do you write?” Many people answer with the cliche of, “Because I have to.” No, you don’t. No one is putting a gun to your head making you write. In fact, for many of us, not writing is one of the easiest things to do. For some, this is a hard truth to answer. Why do you write? is it cathartic? Do you write to sell? Every one of us has a different reason as to why we write but, one thing is true, on some level we write to relay a truth.
Today, I wanted to talk about verisimilitude. Neil Gaiman has said, “We’re using memorable lies. We are taking people who do not exist and things that did not happen to those people, in places that aren’t, and we are using those things to communicate true things.”
Verisimilitude is, as defined above, the appearance of being truthful or real. Writing fiction might be wrapped in a lie but the kernel of it is truth. Using the lie to convey this truth is a key part of literature. To do this, the reader must be able to suspend disbelief and be willing to accept the story; writers do this with verisimilitude.
Rather through a made up world (such as fantasy) or through a story about our real world, the goal here is to be convincing enough to seem credible. Being that my own genre is fantasy or, at the very least, magical realism, I need to keep my reader grounded in some amount of reality no matter how outlandish the world is.
One of the biggest challenges I had when starting out was to maintain the laws of magic in my world. Like so many writers in the early stages, I wanted my magic to be amazing and spectacular and also break the laws of my world. A Deus Ex Machina of pretty colors and big sounds. It wasn’t until I faced some hard truths that this isn’t how it worked.
Over time, I learned how to temper my writing and applied certain rules to my fiction. Some of these rules include using concrete details, staying true to the emotions of your characters, mixing the known and unknown, and not committing technical errors.One of the most interesting rules I have learned along the way is to cover objections, if something isn’t right for my character or world, letting the characters notice this adds a level of detail.
Pulling again from Gaiman, he said, “If you’re going to write… you have to be willing to do the equivalent of walking down a street naked. You have to be able to show too much of yourself. You have to be just a little bit more honest than you’re comfortable with…”
One of the ways I do this, and stay honest with myself, is by keeping a journal and writing down these parts of myself that are ‘too much’. Sometimes I read it, out loud, to others, and sometimes I do it just to myself but it is a good way of staying truthful and callousing your skin for when you decide to write for others to read.