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Become a Better Writer: Authenticity

Updated on April 10, 2010

A self-test for dreamers and visionaries

Ironically, your greatest advantage as a writer may also be a handicap. Unlike your future readers, you carry an extra version of the story inside of you, embedded into your body and soul. Many authors tend to overlook the following basic fact, or at least underestimate its importance: Readers don't have a clue unless you tell them! They only know what you are saying, not what you think that you are saying, not what you are trying to say.

To overcome this “blind spot,” you will at some point in the creative process want to break out of your glamour world filled with ideas, images, and visions. For the duration of this exercise, your focus will be upon your readers only. Using your imagination, you will try to put yourself in their place, as you perform the following self-test:

The characters: Are they credible? Do they speak like real people, each with their own individual voice, or do they sound more like myself on steroids? Have I outlined what they look like, their body language, the manner in which they interact with other people? Can my readers follow my characters' thinking?

The setting: When I mention some structure – a tunnel, a building – do I give my readers the information they need to visualize it? Concrete, brick, stone? Grey or white? Old or new? In good or bad shape? Have I described the surroundings sufficiently to create an entire scene that my readers can visualize?

Objects: Our reality is filled with objects, we handle them all the time often without even noticing it, but what about the virtual world of a fiction or non-fiction book? Are there enough funny little objects in my stories, are my depictions of them detailed and realistic enough to be credible? Do I make good use of them, like turning them into metaphors sometimes, or having my characters do funny things like unfolding an old blue umbrella in the middle of a crowded market square?

The sensual world: Our real world is filled with smells, sounds, and sensual stimuli. What about my story, do I tell my readers whether my characters feel hot or cold? Are they comfortable or uneasy around other people, stressed or at ease when by themselves? Do they sing in the shower?

Of course, the list may be expanded depending on the situation. A historical novel usually requires more research compared with a fairy tale, but ultimately the task confronting you as a writer is the same: You must convince your readers that your virtual reality is credible, compelling them to share and appreciate that story you have inside.


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