Friday, July 21, 2017

As 21st Century writers, we should strive for verisimilitude.

As 21st Century writers, we should strive for verisimilitude. (Repeat after me: vera suh MILL uh tood. I learned that from my friends Charlie Sweet and Hal Blythe.) 

It’s a fifty-dollar word meaning: “The appearance of being true or real.”

We should convince readers the “real facts” in our novels are true so they will believe the “fake facts” we present in our novels. You have to get the facts straight in your fiction if you expect readers to believe your lies. Readers expect accuracy and will often stop reading if your facts are not straight. Get your facts straight in your fiction and readers will suspend disbelief and enjoy reading your book.

Getting facts straight is important.

Examples of factual screw-ups: 
  • The damned TV hit man who screws a silencer onto a revolver. The gasses and the noises escape through the cylinder, not the barrel. A silencer on a revolver is like putting a rubber on a banana. It looks interesting but does nothing at all.
  • The young man who walks south on 61st Street in Manhattan, where all numbered streets run east and west. Someone is going to let you know.
  • The dumb writer (me) who wrote about a boat anchored in Sarasota Bay with its running lights on. The book had already sold ten thousand copies when the president of the local yacht club called to tell me, “They’re called ‘riding lights.’”
When authors make a mistake in research, when our facts aren't correct, our readers may lose their willing suspension of disbelief and not get it back. They may stop reading.

They say, “If he can’t get the damned gun right, how do I know anything else is true?”

The relationship between readers and a writer is one of trust. Readers trust you to help them suspend their natural disbelief so they can enjoy your book. They want to appreciate your book. They want to believe you. However, anything you do to remind them this story is not true will jolt them back to reality and it can be enough to make them stop reading.

No matter how arcane or narrow the subject, there’s going to be someone, somewhere, who knows all about the subject. In fact, it’s not what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you think you know. Because you think you know it, you don’t bother to check it out.

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.)

Lary Crews