Credibility is about concreteness. We believe this is happening because the specificity of the details indicates that this is really happening, that only experiencing this situation would lead to such vivid observations.
Read this blog entry about "what it's like being poor" by s/f writer John Scalzi, and I bet it's clear that this is someone who has been poor. We believe this because the details are so precise.
But also imagine that you're writing about a kid who is growing up poor. Notice how many of these precise details could be used to infuse a scene (like the kid getting ready for school) with immediacy (she's getting ready, and her mom is making toast for her, and a roach walks across the bread, and both of them pretend not to notice because they can't afford to throw the bread out).
This is an aspect of voice, I think--the precision of detail. The desire to get so real, to make the fictional scene come alive, that's voice. It's not just the word choice, it's the recognition of the importance of getting the reality in there.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Concrete and specific
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ABsolutely! There is truth in the advice "Write about what you know". Nothing takes me out of a story faster than an author using language, terms, or details that are inaccurate. I advise writers to search for and ask questions of an expert if their knowledge about a subject is limited.
I really find this to be a disadvantage for me, because I don't know much, and I don't like doing much research. :) Book research is okay, but I get insecure when I interview people, and if you don't live what you write, you need to talk to those who do. And I get all tongue-tied with that.
But maybe we need to think that we know more than just professions or how the NSA works-- we know what broth looks like when it boils, and what you do when your car is frozen in. (That last I know all too well-- happened to me this morning. Will this winter ever end?)
@wes you took the words out of my mouth
Getting input is fairly easy. We all know people who are experts, or are very familiar, with nearly any subject we include in our writing: cars, fashion, food, drink, law, animals, history, heck even the wild thing. Give them a draft of a scene, and ask for comments. Pretend it's like critique group only nicer. People are happy to show off their knowledge.
On a related topic, I hate it when I get dinged in a contest by someone who doesn't know a subject, but assumes I'm wrong. In a contest this year, I got knocked out of the running because I lost points because I had my MC lean his arms across his horse while standing and talking to someone on the other side of the horse. The judge bitched at me for lack of respect for the horse and annoying it. Most horses like it. It's a form of bonding. I'd like to have a dollar for every time I've done it. My request of judges is that if they don't know a subject, don't assume the writer is wrong.
Disrespecting a horse. :) Well, that's a new one!
Amateur judges can be funny. I had one refuse to read an entry taken from my WIP because men dying of thirst were drinking blood from their mules. It is an old practice still employed in Kenya, Mongolia and other parts of the world.
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