Thursday, May 8, 2014

Writer's Workshop: How Lying Makes You a Better Writer

Stephen Colbert probably didn't know it at the time he coined the word in 2005, but TRUTHINESS is what fiction authors live, breathe, and bleed onto every page we write. Without our verisimilitude, the worlds and characters we create wouldn't be believable.

Verisimilitude, you say?

Now I bet you are all thinking that the above word is a little too long and not at all useful, especially in everyday talk. I recently attended a writing conference that had a class entitled Verisimilitude. I tried to avoid attending the class, but accidentally walked into the wrong room and felt awkward leaving, so I just stuck around. Boy was I glad I gave it a chance. Deren Hansen was the genius teacher leading the class.

So what is verisimilitude and how can it help you become a better writer? First off, let's do a little defining here:

So truthiness and verisimilitude are one and the same. They are the poker face. And in writing, they make us all liars. Writing fiction is just a step removed from lying. Now that you know that truth, how can being a LIAR-LIAR-PANTS-ON-FIRE make you a better writer?

First of all, you have to realize that in every novel you write, you are essentially acting as an illusionist. I recently read Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold. In this fabulous book, Carter the Great is able to convince the audience of his magic through his skills as an illusionist. Many of his great tricks required months of planning and building contraptions that mimicked a reality for the audience. Everything in his act had a purpose from the way he dressed or flicked his wrist to his beautiful assistants--everything perfectly orchestrated to draw the audience's attention. The audience would watch his shows and really believe in his magic. The funny thing is that most of the magic really happened in their heads. In essence, Carter was the greatest verisimilutudist of his time (or maybe I should say that Gold is?).

Stories, like the best lies, are based on truth. As a writer, we need to come up with a Truth Center to make our lie effective. Just like an illusionist, we have to plan our world and our characters. Do wands create magic? Does John love ice cream? Do the two moons of Elga rise at dinner each night? Answering these questions will make our Truth Center. As our story unfolds, we must stick to the rules we have created in our Truth Center.

Does that mean that we have to tell every detail? No, we just select the interesting and cut out the boring stuff. Let the readers fill in the rest. Howard Tayler (Schlock Mercenary) has said, "The monster you imagine when I say something goes bump in the dark is far scarier than anything I could describe." Less is always more.

What we can do to increase verisimilitude:

  1. Postpone reader gratification
  2. Defy their expectations
  3. Show counter-intuitive effects
  4. Establish characters capable of heroism and cowardice, making it harder to predict what they will do
  5. Establish a pattern and then break it. This causes as much tension for the reader as it does for the characters
  6. Readers, like fish, need to be coaxed to the climax with cycles of tension and release. Reader worry powers the story engine.
We all love roller coasters (most of us, anyway) because we know they are carefully engineered to bring us back to the gate. A story, like a roller coaster, follows the same path, but readers want to feel as though anything in the context of the narrative is possible. We don't want to be told exactly where we are going, we want to experience the ride. To do that, we have to follow the Rules of 2:
  1. Every non-trivial element should be brought to the reader's attention at least twice
  2. Every character should have the potential and opportunity to make at least two choices.
Make what you are writing appear easy. It is hard to have verisimilitude if the writing is poor. Good writing, like the experienced ballerina who split leaps high in the air, should appear effortless and invisible. Hansen says the best way we can do this is by using competent wordsmithing.

Some other wordsmithing tips:
  1. Stick with simple forms of speech tags - he said, she asked. They shouldn't distract attention from the dialogue.
  2. Adverbs should only be used in speech tags to modify the act of speaking ('said loudly', NOT 'said spitefully')
Make sure your numbers add up too. Someone is going to check your facts. Anytime there are critical details, make sure you are accurate. I recently went to a book launch where author Brodi Ashton was talking about her book, Everneath. Apparently she had the distance between Park City and another city wrong in her book. She hates it when people bring it up. Obviously it hasn't ruined the success of her book, but those readers that notice it are taken out of the story for a minute or two because that verisimilitude wall broke down. Author is the root of the word "authority". As an author, you are saying you are the authority on what you have written. Make it so (as Jean Luc Picard would say).


Readers need to believe you know what you are doing. You don't need to be an expert, but you need to do you homework. You don't have to write just what you know. You DO have to know what you write. What do you do if you don't know the details? Don't cover up the scandal. Acknowledge it and move on so that the reader doesn't think you made a mistake.

At the end of the day, remember that truthiness can be hardwork. Perception is everything. Now get out there and start lying, author! If someone catches you in a lie, just tell them you are working.

Monday, May 5, 2014

20 Mother's Day Gift Ideas For Your Book Lover

In collaboration with Delicious Reads, I put together this list to delight that book lovin' mom of yours!

Mother's Day is just a week away. If you're like me, you've probably been thinking about getting that literary mom of yours a thoughtful gift to show her how much you love her.  You've probably even realized that the $10 potted plant staring at you as you walk into Walmart probably won't cut it as the kind of unique present your mom deserves. What do you get the wonderful woman who seems to always know what to get you? Look no further! Check out these creative gifts that are bound to bring a smile to her eye and, dare I say, maybe a tear drop or two of delight.

20 Mother's Day Gift Ideas for the Book Lover:

1. Personal Library Book Embosser - For a bibliophile, there's no greater pleasure than sharing beloved books, but no crueler pain than losing them for good. Press your personalized embossing stamp to all your books to make sure they make it home. 
book embosser

2. Bathtub Caddy with Reading Rack - Perfect for an evening bubble bath with a good book for complete and total relaxation. Pair it with some bath salts to give your mom a home day at the spa.

book caddy

3. Book Locket Necklace - This beautiful detailed brass book locket is one of the latest additions to the Secret Message Locket line of jewelry. Highly detailed with floral and leaf engravings this locket includes a strip of accordion folded parchment paper so you can personalize this lovely piece for your special mom.
Book necklace

4. Creative Ways to Organize Your Home - If your mom loves to read, then she probably needs to get organized so that she fit more books on her shelves. Wherever you need small-scale storage solutions - from the kitchen to the bathroom, the bedroom to the study - you will find a stylish, crafty solution in this book.

organizing your home

5. Fables and Feathers Duvet Cover - Read between the sheets! Currently sold out from Anthropologie, but you can create your own by scanning the pages of her favorite book and making a custom duvet cover through CafePress
Fables and feathers duvet cover

6. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson - Does Jane Austen grace the shelves of your mom's library? If you have ever seen your mom gushing over a young and lake-soaked Colin Firth, she will love this clean romance that is reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice. 

7. Vintage Book iDock - For the bibliophile on your gift list: this repurposed tome holds a hidden iPhone or iPad charger. From Rich Neeley Designs, who are inspired by a love of vintage books.

8. Hand-Woven Palm Carryall Gift Set - With a beautiful bag to carry her favorite books, this set includes essentials for a quick getaway or relaxing retreat: Includes a Hand-Woven Palm Carryall, Calepino Blank Pocket Notebooks and Hand-Poured Travel Candle. 

9. Mr. Darcy's Finest Earl Grey - If your mom can't get enough of the Regency Period and loves a good spot 'a tea, this gift is for her. She'll take pride in her refined side with Mr. Darcy's special Earl Gray. An exquisite black tea accented with chocolate, bergamot and fine silver dragees. Touches of elegance befitting a gentleman, and gentlewoman.
Earl grey tea

10. Paddywax Library Boxed Glass Candle Collection - The Paddywax Library Collection pairs exquisite fragrance with a quote from a literary great. 
Library candle

11. Book Scarf - Have her show of her great taste in books with these fabulous scarves filled with words from her favorite book. Reading is fashionable!
fashionable reading

12. The Great Gatsby Bowtie Necklace - Your mom will party like Jay Gatsby with this quirky bow tie necklace presented on a postcard print featuring a quote from The Great Gatsby.
mothers day necklace

13. Ideal Book Shelf Prints - These beautiful prints to hang on your wall or place on a desk can reflect your mother's reading style. You can also have a custom art painted with books from her own shelf!

14. Personal Library Kit - Want to lend out your favorite books, but worried about getting them back? Revive old-fashioned library circulation techniques for fun and book retention with our classic bestseller!
library kit

15. One Line a Day - Let your mom bring to life her inner-writer. This classic memory keeper is the perfect way to track the ups and downs of life, day by day.
mothers day journal
16. Book of Tissue - Now she can read her favorite tear-jerker and wipe away her sorrows with this unique tissue box.
mothers day gift ideas
17. Book Dust Jackets - FREE! Download these fabulous book jackets for your mom (and maybe for yourself as well). Give her a new book creatively covered with these fun dust jackets or print her off several to cover the books already on her shelves.
Free download book dust jacket

18. Twisted Pages Book Art - She loves to read - why not give her decor to match her love? These fabulous vintage books are rescued from the landfill & handcrafted into a letter or symbol of your choice.

19. Book Lover's Scrabble: “Good friends, good books….this is the ideal life.” – Mark Twain The Book Lovers Edition of Scrabble features 2 ways to play including traditional Scrabble fun or custom play with a novel twist allowing players to earn bonus points for literary words. Your mom will love this gift if you promise to join her for game night. 
Book scrabble

20. Floating Book Shelves For an ultra-minimal look, this bookshelf mounts to the wall and becomes invisible behind a stack of books, giving the books the appearance of floating in mid-air. 
Floating shelves

Show your literary mom how much you love her and unique she is with these great gift ideas for Mother's Day this year.