Believability in Writing

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Believability in Writing

Post by The Ghost Writer on Wed Jan 26, 2011 5:33 pm

I believe the most difficult struggle for all authors, no matter how experienced you are, is adding enough depth to your work to keep your audience engaged in a comfortable (and sometimes, not-so comfortable) environment. We've all heard that that we should "make the reader feel as if they were there", but we struggle in developing such detail. Often, authors want to skip right to the point, because their mind is telling them they've already been there and done that; even though the reader has not. Its like watching a movie for the second or even third time, but you're doing it because a friend of your hasn't and wants to see it. You know what's going to happen, and sometimes you may feel the urge to spoil the plot or reveal the ending. You sit there in the theater or in front of your television, fidgeting with your fingers and wishing you were watching something else. This is the mind of the common writer whenever it comes to developing characters and settings. Drawing out the juicy detail just sucks.

In the story I'm working on right now, I began doing some research on some of the scenes I'm using in my story. The places that my characters visit throughout the story are real settings from my own childhood. The people are based of off influential individuals that I've met, or fragments of my own personality. Hemingway once told Fitzgerald while his alcohol-loving, party-crazy friend was writing the Great Gatsby. He sternly told him to "write the truth" when writing fiction. Taking those words to heart, I went back and looked at what I had written so far. I realized that I lacked detail in several places I knew were real. The way I had described them left them with a lack of life and color; and almost, literally, unbelievable.

After researching the places I had once visited, and reacquainted myself with their settings, I began to toss out what I had made up in lack of vivid memory; with factual details and descriptions. The first quote is the original paragraph I had constructed to describe a restaurant my character visits. The second quote is the refurbished description.

When I sat down in the black leather-cushioned dining chair, I sat back and looked around the room. Nothing had actually changed since my childhood days of coming here. The furniture was still old wood with leather booths along the west and south walls, and tables everywhere else. There was a large, elegant fireplace on the north wall with a mirror resting above it. On either side of the fireplace were to wax status of Mexican soldiers from Santa Anna’s era, bearing rifles and wearing the full red and blue uniform of the Mexican army. Along the walls were various water color paintings of different landscapes and villas. The room was dimly lit by hanging lights over the booths and the occasional wall lap. The ceiling fans overhead had their bulbs turned down to just an ambient glow. And then there was the chatter of the old folk. Many of the city’s elders loved to come to the Mexican Villa restaurants simply because it was small and humble; away from the rowdy kids and soccer moms in their over-sized SUVs and mommy-mobiles that frequented the more commercialized restaurants nowadays.

When I sat down in the hard, metal dining chair, I leaned back and looked around the room. Nothing had actually changed since my childhood days of coming here. The chairs around the scattered tables were still metal, with leather booths along the west and south walls. There was a large, elegant fireplace on the north wall with large velvet-oil painting of a matador resting above it. The colors of the painting gave a mysterious aura from the reflection of the light. On the mantel were several Spanish sailing boat models, finely constructed by hand with an eye for detail. On either side of the fireplace were two suits of Spanish plate armor. Along the walls were various water color paintings of different landscapes and villas. The room was dimly lit by hanging plastic tiffany lamps over the booths and the occasional wall lamp. The ceiling fans overhead had their bulbs turned down to just an ambient glow. And then there was the chatter of the old folk. Many of the city’s elders loved to come to the Mexican Villa restaurants simply because it was small and humble; away from the rowdy kids and soccer moms in their over-sized SUVs and mommy-mobiles that frequented the more commercialized restaurants nowadays.

This Mexican Villa, in particular, was the first of the four-restaurant franchise in Springfield; constructed on South National, only five blocks away from the SMU campus. It was started by a veteran navy pilot of World War II; who came over from the west-coast with a truly unique style of Mexican food. It’s called California Mexican, and what separates it from Tex-Mex, Authentic Mexican, or even just Mexican food in general, is that each entre comes with an enchilada sauce and shredded white-American cheese. The famous enchilada sauce is a darker, richer, and thicker variant of most sauces. It almost looks brown in the dim lighting.

Mexican Villa became the family restaurant. My grandfather took the family here often because it was the only restaurant in Springfield that, at the time, served beer. Springfield used to be a blue law city; where restaurants were restricted to only selling three-two alcohol, and none at all on Sundays. Eventually, it just became a family tradition to visit Mexican Villa at least once during each of my visits up here. Tim and his family also came here often, simply because it just down the block from where they lived on Virginia Street. The waitresses that served my father and Tim’s family back in the day, served me during my childhood as well. There used to be a rumor that they never left, and that the cooks and other staff were all criminals. I’m not entirely sure how that last bit came about, but it was always fun to think about as a kid.

Now please keep in mind that I'm not sharing this to boast or brag; but I ask that you use this thread as example of the power of writing truth in fiction. If you really believability to be a faction in your story (or roleplay) then this is my advice. Use what you know, and be critical of what you don't know. Not skeptical, but critical. Research it intensely before you use it. Gain some experience with it. Now I don't mean that if you want to create a war-based roleplay you'll need to join the military. Instead, try talking to someone that is or has been. Read a few history books, watch a few documentaries. Takes notes and play the scenes that you want to write out in your head; but only begin writing once you are sure that you have that believability. You can always write drafts, of course; and there's nothing wrong with going back and editing what you have already written for the sake of making it more believable.
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Re: Believability in Writing

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Wed Jan 26, 2011 8:09 pm

That was a marvelous example. Thank you so much for sharing!
It really brings the difference into light. Nod
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Re: Believability in Writing

Post by Chainlinc3 on Wed Jan 26, 2011 8:14 pm

Just wanna throw out my two cents on detail (not relating to your example per se, just the subject as a whole):

I fully believe that the ability to write details into your work is a vital skill for anyone planning on writing for more than just a passing amusement, but one must also judge the skill with which they are capable of weaving information into their writing. I, for example, tend to only include extensive detail for important events and set pieces. I don't do this because I'm lazy-- I do this because I'm not especially good at writing detail and I have had people tell me that when I get too detailed they often start skipping sentences or even paragraphs at a time. As a result, I save details for areas where I'm shooting to achieve a "cinematic" feel-- areas where the plot is advancing quickly enough or twisting suddenly enough that the reader shouldn't even notice that the way I tied in the description of the scene was abrupt or awkward.

Anyway-- nobody wants to read a page describing one character's morning routine as they wake up and get ready for work. A skilled enough writer, however, can make you not even realize that you're reading that by tying the details in seamlessly with the character's thoughts and actions-- that's my opinion at least. Detail is a wonderful tool in the hands of a practiced wielder, but a dangerous pitfall in the hands of those with little experience in its use.

>.>

I think that's one of the longest "two cents" I've ever had.
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Re: Believability in Writing

Post by Guest on Wed Jan 26, 2011 8:36 pm

I would like to add that an author must have a good visualization skill. If one can clearly picture the surroundings, and the subtle movements of the characters, it becomes easier to write important details down. Not all details are important, and a true expression of mastery in one's writing is conveying vast amounts of knowledge in as few words as possible.

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Re: Believability in Writing

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Wed Jan 26, 2011 8:51 pm

That'd be the trick, condensing information. I think writing what one knows is a huge part of what gives them the perfect words to use. Just recently, for example, before researching I would have had to waste a lot of time describing something really simple, when after just a bit of searching I found the perfect term and phrase to condense it all to a succinct description. No time wasted, and more effective for using the right words.

Along that same vein, though, I think there is sometimes a tendency to use terminology for the "right words." It seems like it would work well, but if the terms are not well known, the reader suffers. What I like to do is use terms but also weave in layman's vernacular, common speech (see what I did there?), into the descriptions. That way the reader has some aid in figuring things out if they don't know big or obscure words. I think of it like that saying, "If you can't teach it, you don't really know it."
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Re: Believability in Writing

Post by The Ghost Writer on Wed Jan 26, 2011 9:06 pm

Kalon Ordona II wrote:"If you can't teach it, you don't really know it."

I've never heard that quote before, but I really like it! *jots it down in Microsoft Note so he doesn't forget*
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