Verisimilitude: Suspending Readers’ Beliefs

Sheenah Archive, Writing Advice 2 Comments

Verisimilitude -sə-ˈmi-lə-ˌtüd, -ˌtyüd noun — 1. the quality or state of being verisimilar 2. something verisimilar
According to my high school creative writing teacher: The suspension of disbelief


Memorize it

Way back when I was in high school, my creative writing teacher’s first lesson was on verisimilitude. If you fail at this, you’ve failed at a writer. You want your readers to believe every word you’re saying. You don’t want a reader to read your work, roll your eyes, and deem it impractical.

No matter how hard you work on world building and character believability, there will always be someone who won’t believe it. Why? Because it’s not real enough. But often times reality is stranger than fiction. For example: I’ve seen many an artist rant about some terrible criticism they got where said viewer tore their work apart because they felt it wasn’t practical. The artist came back and posted the artwork in question alongside the photograph that they used as a reference and it was spot on with reality. (I can’t find this link at the moment…)

The Truth

This is what you need to do

In order to make sure that your reader doesn’t suddenly realize that what you’re writing is impractical, you need to immerse them. Writing about magic? Write down a list of rules for your own personal notes and stick to them. It doesn’t make sense that everyone can use magic and then you have this obstacle like, a tree fell in your character’s path and said character can’t make the tree move using magic. Unless, of course, you already stated this as one of your rules. Even contemporary fiction writers have it hard. Remember, I said that reality is often stranger than fiction? Maybe you’re writing about some guy who always falls in love at first sight. This will often make my eyes roll. But it’s up to the writer to make me believe that the guy truly believes that every random girl he bumps into is the one without making me throw my hands up in the air.

Plot holes are a major factor in breaking your readers’ suspension of disbelief. Take a close look at what you have written. Do you have a character that was once dead and suddenly four chapters after this revelation you find that character walking about and talking? If you’re not writing about zombies and vampires and if said person didn’t fake their death, you need to change that pronto. In order to catch these sort of things, it’s often best to get a beta reader who will tell you the truth no matter how hurtful it is. Sometimes you can find a family member or friend who’s good at telling you the hurtful truth. Often times, one should go out and ask a random stranger. If you’re doing it yourself, try to look at it from a reader’s perspective.

Comments 2

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  1. I will have to keep this in mind as my story unfolds: “Plot holes are a major factor in breaking your readers’ suspension of disbelief.” I’m really bad about forgetting the little details & they come back to bite me later. I think another thing to keep in mind when writing for believability (is that a word? spell check says “NO”) is to remember your audience; as in, don’t ever forget who you’re righting for. I attended a writing group & we had to exchange stories for critique, which normally I love. But I ended up with a real bore who never read sci-fi… needless to say, he wasn’t the best judge of what is or isn’t believable.

    Regardless, terrific word for the letter “V”! 🙂

    Andi-Roo /// @theworld4realz

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      Believability is so a word. I think you might have just misspelled it. Or your spell check is just being mean. Yes. One should never forget who they’re writing for; I think Amanda Hocking does that magnificently, even if her books aren’t my cup of tea.

      People need to keep an open mind when they critique work that isn’t necessarily a genre that they read. I’ve never read sci-fi until just recently, but I never dismissed the notion of time traveling and robots and whatnot.

      Thanks! 🙂

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