Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy
I blogged about description earlier, but recently I noted a section in John Gardner's book, The Art of Fiction: Notes of Craft for Young Writers. He mentions one thing that I not only neglected but also had never really considered before. It's a little bigger than it sounds at first. He mentions description in the role of verisimilitude.
I like that word. Let's all say it together: verisimilitude.
Verisimilitude isn't truth; it's truth-like. It's truthy. We write fiction, so we aim for the truth. But, in order to shelve our work on the fiction isle, it isn't literal truth itself. It's verisimilitude. To make fiction believable and real, writers reach for that sense of truth. How? Well, it's in the details. Yes, description is part of that, but John Gardner uses the word description in a much broader way. He means that, for example, in a world of dragons, when a character rides on the back of a dragon, she reacts in a believable way. She hugs close to the neck in much the same way she might while on a horse for the first time. She feels emotions that anyone would likely feel from the back of a ten-ton flying reptile. Not only that, but what she doesn't do also resonates with truth. (She doesn't try to hop off, for instance. She's a mile in the air now.)
So even though John Gardner's use of the word "description" goes beyond what a writer normally thinks, it applies to description perfectly well. So I have a new goal in mind when I choose which details to reveal in my work-in-progress: verisimilitude.
Writer of speculative fiction. Current work in progress is an untitled dark fantasy novella.