Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

The word for today is ‘verisimilitude’ — really, it is

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In a post last week (I think it was last week), I made the point that writing fiction gives you sort of a license to lie. Not that we need such a license. We have the Internet.

And, as I tried to point out, the best sort of lies you tell are those which are convincing, lies which seem “life-like.” The word for such fiction is verisimilitude: That which seems to be real. It’s that quality of good fiction we mean when we say that it is truthful or that it conveys truth. Truth through lies? Sounds a bit like politics, doesn’t it?

Here’s the part of the craft which gets a bit tricky. To achieve this real-life quality, we must work hard at everything from vocabulary to grammar to creative usage. Because what we and other readers perceive as “real life” really isn’t. It’s what other writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, and a host of artists and philosophers throughout human history have taught us to accept as real-life. Let me give you a quick example. It has to do with dialog.

Go to your favorite coffee house, cafe, whatever, and find a seat near groups of people. Sit quietly and just listen to them converse for a couple of hours. Take a small pad and pencil (or laptop or “Neo” or whatever) with you and try your best to write down EXACTLY what you hear as you listen to their conversations. Go home. Throw the pad/laptop/Neo aside and come back to it a day later.

Now look at the notes you’ve taken. If you’ve listened really, really closely and written down exactly what you heard instead of what you “thought” you heard, you’ll be surprised at how little this “real” dialog resembles the way you or I would write dialog.

We clean it up. We take out the stutters, the “ya know what I mean?” every third phrase. We take out the “uh, well, uh, yeah, uh, okay” and turn it into “yeah, sure,” or just “okay” when we write it.

Moral of my story for today: Verisimilitude demands that we strive for realism — but slavish literalism will never grab your readers and convince them it’s real. Use your fiction carefully to craft reality the way you and your readers need to see it to get your message across.
[tags]realism or literalism in writing, verisimilitude, writing dialog, writing tips at garyspeer.com[/tags]

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