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credibility in fiction writing

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By Johannes Helmold

Credibility in fiction writing is, in my opinion, even more essential than in academic writing. The main reason why I think this way is that an author writing a novel, for example, faces the complicated task of making fiction look real. Moreover, the genre doesn’t really matter; be it “Harry Potter” or “The Old Man and the Sea,” an audience still requires credibility and realism.

“But how can we talk about realism in fantasy or sci-fi novels?” you might ask me. Indeed, if I know that I am reading a fictional story about a magician boy, with all his wands and unicorns, I can hardly seek for realism. But the trick is that our mind can easily accept facts like wonders or magic, but will mistreat any flaw and drawback in descriptions, convexity of characters, wrong intonations in dialogues, and so on. Stated succinctly, our mind is often more picky about the manner of writing rather than about the plot.

So, today I would like to talk about making your creative writing credible. Actually, this is a vast topic, so I decided to divide it into several blocks; today’s one will be dedicated to creating credible scenes and decorations.

Though one could possibly write a book about creating credible descriptions of environments, I will limit myself to several pieces of advice.

1. Try to avoid using descriptions like “indescribable,” “incomprehensible,” “never seen by a human being,” “fantastic,” and other similar epithets. Though it may seem to you that these words can fully express awe, a sensation of oddity, or the grandiose, in fact, they are empty. Instead, you might use comparisons, or simple adjectives. Compare the following examples:

e.g. The enormous grandiosity of the ancient fortress was fantastic; nothing like this was ever seen by a human being.

The only thing I got from this sentence is that the author (well, it was myself, but I wrote it like that on purpose) wanted to convey his awe about the size of a fortress. However, all that can be understood is that the fortress is huge; besides, the description looks pretentious. Now, let us rewrite this piece a bit:

e.g. The walls of an ancient fortress hid in thunderstorm clouds high above travelers’ heads, and the main tower menacingly overhung the surrounding cliffs, making the stern scenery look even more hostile and desolated.

A reader can create his or her personal picture in their heads; as for me, I don’t impose my personal impressions on them—I just describe what I “see.”

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