When writing fiction, of course we all aim to create a sense of believability (aka “suspension of disbelief”). We hope that our readers feel their surroundings, smell the scents, see the vibrant (or dark) colors, feel the breeze tickling at their neck, and empathize with our characters. But how can your reader travel into this imaginary land you’ve created unless you’re willing to go there yourself? You can’t simply point to a door and expect your reader to open it. You must go with them, take them by the hand and guide them.

The point here being that how can you expect anyone else to believe your stories if you don’t believe yourself? You can’t. It’s simple as that.

These worlds we create in our writing (real or imagined) are essentially uncharted, and YOU as the author have the responsibility (and express entitlement) to travel to these lands very first and map them out for our readers. Explore, look for weak points, areas undeveloped that need work. Delve deep into these realms and take note of EVERYTHING, the smells, sounds, sights, feelings they instill, the taste of the air, the temperature, and I really do mean everything. You may not (and of course should not)  include every detail in your story, but make sure you have them in case you need them.

When we fail to believe in our own worlds (and characters), it’s notable. The reader can smell uncertainty in a story like a shark can smell blood in the water. No one wants to read a work of fiction that they cannot lose themselves in, being that this is the point of fiction: to provide an escape from the “real world”. How can you expect anyone to get lost in the world you’ve created if you haven’t even been there yourself?

So here’s what you need to do:

Close your eyes and think of the setting for your story. Imagine yourself there, walking around, meeting people (or not if it’s an isolated setting), touching things, smelling things. Notice the color of the sky, the grass, flowers, or the concrete, the buildings, the cars. Make yourself “go there” and make yourself believe. Make your setting as realistic as possible.

Real places have history, whether it’s the building or property itself, or the area in general. Come up with some for yours. Whether you actually use it or not is up to you, but make sure you have it in case the need arises.

Beyond realistic settings, our characters need to be believable too. Now, you can imagine your characters are sitting there with you, telling you all about themselves, or you can simply outline their defining characteristics and create a history for them as well. The “Character Biography”, I call them, and keep track of them, as you will likely need to refer back to them for important details. You will never meet a 30-year-old without a past, nor a two-year-old. Whether their past is detailed or vague, it still must be there. This also goes for your creature. If the beast has lived in the same area forever, there’s likely a legend or two floating around about it in the nearby towns, be sure to include this. Or if your monster is foreign to the area, explain how they came to be there, preferably without revealing the beast in its entirety. Not only does it help to build suspense, but it will also add a depth and reality to your monster.

Also, try your characters in the setting, be sure that they are appropriate. You don’t want a high-class lawyer walking around in the forests of Tennessee with her stilettos on, nor would you want a big foot monster tromping around in a tiny space ship. If you do want out-of-place characters for one reason or another, be sure to explain how and why this character ended up in this unlikely place. Like I said, take the reader’s hand and lead them yourself. Without you, the author and narrator, the reader is lost, irrevocably, and they will move on to another author that doesn’t leave them running blind from a one-dimensional, hardly scary creature.

T.E.D. Klein (a former editor of Twilight Zone Magazine) said it best like this: “Whatever his personal convictions, while writing his horror tale, the author must believe in it…performing the same magic on himself that he hopes to perform upon the reader.” (Quoted from William F. Nolan’s How to Write Horror Fiction, page 29.)

If you don’t see your surroundings, if you can’t smell the flowers you’ve put there, if you can’t hear the anger in your character’s voice, then how on earth can you expect your readers to?

Believe in the unbelievable, and you’ll find your readers are willing to do the same, so long as you show them how.

Any thoughts? Ideas? Opinions? Something to add? Please feel free. Or share how you make any aspect of your stories believable.


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