Wait—maybe you knew that. Why is it, then, that we strive so hard to root our stories in the real world, when we’ve already accepted that the quicker and more meaningful road to truth can often be found through a concoction?
Perhaps, after hearing the word at a writing conference, we’re hung up on the importance of “verisimilitude”—keeping it real. And perhaps we’re misinterpreting the meaning of verisimilitude. Achieving verisimilitude does not mean that every single plot point can be reproduced in the laboratory of real life. It means that our stories must seem to be true.
Framed as it is by historical detail, it sounds realistic enough, right?
Except that before she accepts a boarder Margaret must consult her “housemates,” because the pottery always has an opinion.
Who would be most receptive to change? Not the soup tureens; as a group, they were unimaginative and stodgy.Commenting on all is Margaret’s long dead mother, who lounges around the house in peignoir sets to criticize her.
Wait a minute…. Margaret felt her mother lean closer. I remember those earrings, I’ve been looking for them. Have you been into my things, Margaret?Margaret’s imaginings could be explained away by the way the tumor presses on her brain, but Kallos does not cheapen her story by shining a light on medical fact; to do so would take away from what the reader has already accepted as the reality of Margaret’s world. Countless interwoven elements, from Wanda’s vocation in the theater right down to the type of tumor Margaret has (a star tumor that marks her as complicit in hiding the stolen Jewish porcelain, that has caused her pain yet has created community) contribute to the story’s verisimilitude.
They’re all my things now, Mother. Remember? You’re dead.
Margaret’s mother got up and slipped her gloves back on. No need to gloat, Margaret. Ticktock, ticktock.
In genre, the novel leans more toward magic realism than the paranormal; this is a literary work about memory and the way it seeks voice. There’s even an interesting counterpoint where ever-sensitive and constantly woe-struck Wanda steps away from her relentless pursuit of the man who got away, looks at her very real and consistently ardent admirer, and notes, “He had the look of a memory.” That felt real and beautiful to me, even though I’d be hard-pressed to delineate why.
You too can get away with adding fanciful elements, if their addition is grounded in a well-developed emotional reality. From the very first sentence your reader seeks orientation to the world of your story, so she’ll believe turtles can fly if you suggest it on page one. Kallos warmed up her readership with a prologue that begins:
While the woman sleeps and dreams of all that breaks, come into this house of many rooms. Once your eyes adjust to the darkness, beginning to take in what is visible, you may notice a silence that is not quite silent. There’s another language being spoken here, a tongue that emanates from white clay, fire, the oils of many skins, the fusion of rent spirits and matter. The woman hears this language always, even in her sleep, because she is guilty, and because those who speak to her are never silent…Have you ever used fanciful elements to get a point across in your fiction? If so, how did you first foreshadow this to earn reader buy-in?
Kathryn Craft writes women's fiction and memoir, and specializes in developmental editing at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation service. What she believes: 1. Editing forever changed the way she reads. 2. Well-crafted moments of brilliance help her forgive many other problems in a manuscript. 3. All writers have strengths and weaknesses—but why settle for weaknesses? 4. We can learn as much from what other authors do right as we can from what we do wrong. This is her series, "Busted!—An author caught doing something right."