This post was inspired by my own struggles with verisimilitude in my work. Lately, I’ve found that I’ll come up with a potential story, write out a few drafts, and then find them unbelievable from a narrative standpoint. They just ring false.
The initial ideas always seem good. I like to imagine them as bright, unadulterated, complete orbs of light floating around in our heads. Each one contains what we want the reader to feel. But when we try to translate the little idea orbs into text, something gets lost in translation, and it’s not a matter of grammar or diction (I think anyway).
So what’s going on? I have a couple theories. One being, our ideas might suck.
At the risk of alienating some would-be writers, if you don’t have something important to say to the reader, then say nothing. The maxim, “Don’t speak unless you improve upon the silence” comes to mind. I’m not necessarily advocating that we censor ourselves, but it’s worth considering the feedback of our audience: if they feel like “nothing’s happening,” or if they can predict all the narrative beats of your work, you might need to go back to the drawing board. Think of your effort as practical experience.
Theory number 2: The problem of conveyance in narrative is something like trying to describe a dream. We’re deeply impressed and affected by the content of our dreams, but they’re rarely as compelling to someone else because they didn’t experience the dream. To the audience, what we describe is a series of random, unimportant events, and the contrast between the speaker and listener’s impression of the dream is almost always embarrassing.
If this is the case, I think it’s important that we abandon the certainty that we can convey specific thoughts or emotions to the reader. There are too many variables involved. A passage meant to move the reader might evoke some incidental symbolism in the reader’s mind and throw them off the course of your narrative. Or, your passage might be corny. In any case, I think we can agree that we should consider the mechanics of a story when we want the reader to feel something. So to rephrase, abandon certainty that you will move the reader one way or the other, but don’t abandon all hope.
– David Antony Pulido