The most gut-wrenching criticism that you could receive is that your story or characters do not feel ‘real’ or ‘authentic’. It might not be something that you are conscious of in your own writing but as a reader, you have probably come across characters that seem quite unbelievable, in a bad way. If you write fiction, you want your story to be as authentic as possible. While there are many definitions of “authenticity”, we interpret it as the development of a significant connection between the audience and the story. This connection is vital to authors because it entirely forms the way that a reader views a book.
Here are our tips to help you make that connection happen:
1. Write how you speak. This can be good and bad advice. If you are saying the word ‘like’ every three words, something that many of us are guilty of at some point, then you don’t want to write exactly how you speak. If you are writing in the present, adding a few ‘um’s every once in a while can actually help your characters sound more realistic and present-day.
If you write truthfully, readers are much more likely to believe the story.
When dialogue is leaning toward dull and mundane, punch it up, but think about what your character would actually say. You don’t need to add long, unnecessary words when shorter ones work just as well. Find someone to read the dialogue with you to see if it sounds natural. The best way to fix the conversations taking place in your book is to hear them spoken out loud. Then decide if the phrases need a bit more oomph.
2. Make it genuine to the time period. This is especially important when writing historical fiction. When you are writing dialogue for your characters, it is important to make sure it is accurate to the setting and that it also makes sense. If you have set your novel in the 1860’s, do as much investigation as possible to be certain that your dialogue is realistic. Readers notice mistakes like having a character drink coffee in a book set in the 13th century (that delicious beverage didn’t come around until the 15th century). Do your research to try to avoid these errors in your writing. Just make sure that all of your phrases translate properly so your audience will be able to understand them.
3. Use your characters to interact with the setting. It’s not necessary or helpful to list thirty facts about the location when you could use your characters to do this. A common piece of advice told to writers is “show, don’t tell” and this is essential for character development. It connects the audience to the character by giving insight into the way they feel and helping them to see what the character sees.
If you’re not sure what “show, don’t tell” means, here is a quick overview. First, use active verbs, like discovered and listened and dropped. These words tend to be more persuasive than passive verb forms like was discovered and was dropped. Second, show how a character feels through his or her actions. Be as realistic as possible in this and the reader will feel the emotion. Third, give some insight into the character’s mind by writing exactly what they say or think. Inner dialogue is especially helpful in creating a connection with the reader.
Anything you write will take a lot of work and most likely, a lot of research. But if you take the time to make your characters more authentic, your reward will be a realistic book that readers are able to identify with.
What’s your definition of “authenticity”? Have you read any books that lack credibility?