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Verisimilitude in Fiction

From characters to scenes to plot lines, it is important that readers can suspend disbelief; that is, the reader believes the characters to be true to life, the scenes accurate and realistic, and the storylines possible even as they know them to be improbable or impossible. The tool that writers use, and in my opinion a tool that a writer must master, is the art of creating verisimilitude.

We define verisimilitude as follows – Noun:

1 - the appearance or semblance of truth; likelihood; probability: The play lacked verisimilitude.

2 - something, as an assertion, having merely the appearance of truth.

Stephen King says, “Fiction is a lie. Good fiction is the truth within the lie.” The truth need not be a factual or historical truth—it could be a sense of truth or reality. Creating verisimilitude is easy but often requires research. Fortunately, for writers today, that research is right at your fingertips via the internet. Life experiences are also significant sources of ideas for maintaining verisimilitude. The adage for writers: “write what you know” goes hand in hand with creating that all-important sense of reality.

It’s not for nothing that fantasy writers draw maps, include glossaries for invented languages, etc. for their world and creature creations. It’s all about creating a believable, realistic world filled with creatures and beings that make it easy to suspend disbelief. The reader submerges himself in this make-believe, yet believable world.

Model your characters on people you know or know of. My favorite stories are filled with characters that I can associate with, empathize or sympathize with. I recently read a story set in a small, Texas town in the 1960s. I grew up in Texas and recognized every one of the author’s “invented” characters.

Picture your scenes as images and write them that way and develop your plot and sub-plot lines based upon known foundations. I use quantum physics theories in several of my books. I’m not a scientist or a physicist, but I read a book titled, “Quantum Physics for Dummies” that gave me just enough understanding of the entanglement and multiverse theories to use a gimmick for teleporting from one place to another without machines that I called, “quantum leaping.” It surprised several reviewers at how easily they could suspend their disbelief at this story element.

Here’s a scene with and without verisimilitude:

1) Jerry recognized the gun as a Ruger .44 Magnum a split second before the killer pulled the trigger. The bullet caught Jerry in the shoulder, slamming him back into the wall where he slid down to a sitting position. Through blurry eyes, he watched the killer approach and point the gun at his head. A scream from outside diverted the killer’s attention just enough for Jerry to reach up with his unwounded arm and grab the gun, pushing it away. He kicked upward, catching the killer squarely in the balls.

2) Jerry recognized the gun as a Ruger .44 Magnum a split second before the killer pulled the trigger. The bullet caught Jerry in the shoulder, slamming him back into the wall where he slid down to a sitting position. The shock and blood loss were immediate and Jerry lost consciousness within seconds. He didn’t see the killer walk toward him and point the pistol at his head. He didn’t hear the scream from outside that diverted the killer’s attention and sent him running down the hall without finishing Jerry with a head shot.

There will always be readers who know what happens when a .44 Magnum bullet hits a human body. If you can’t make them believe your story, you’ll pay either through a critical review or lost sales in future books. Years ago, I read a book about terrorists that was full of a variety of weapons and bombs and included details about the damage wrought by these weapons. I served twenty-one years in the Army and another twenty-three years with DoD bringing in new weapons and weapons systems to soldiers. This author lost me at chapter one and I never bought another of her books.

So... write what you know and what you’ve thoroughly researched. Make it real and you’ll grow your readers, eager for more of your books.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Lex Allen