You can write a story and present it as, Here’s some stuff I made up — hope you like it!
Or you can present it as, I’m going to tell you what happened — I know because I was there.
Even though fiction is obviously all lies, and the reader knows that, you can make a big difference in how they receive a story simply by how you approach the telling of the tale.
In order to persuade the reader that they are getting the skinny from someone who knows, you have to create a sense of authority. A sense that they can’t get this story from anyone else, because no one else knows the story the way you do.
This is true of any genre and any style. But you can’t just claim to be the person with the inside knowledge, you have to back it up.
You do this by being specific and detailed. You give the reader information that only someone on the inside would know. And it has to be convincing. This can be because the information is true. Or it can be because you’re a good liar. Doesn’t matter.
Let’s say two characters meet at an airport. I can create a sense of authority simply by describing the airport in a way that demonstrates I really have been to this airport.
You may say, What has that got to do with anything? Just because they meet in this particular place doesn’t mean it’s relevant to the story.
I agree. But by establishing your credentials on one subject, it persuades the reader that they are in the hands of a writer who knows what they’re doing. It doesn’t have to be the location, it can be a job, an object, a method…
You may say, Sure, I get the idea, but just because a writer can come up with ten bits of information about Heathrow Terminal 4 doesn’t mean the reader’s going to be interested by them. What’s the point in proving your authority if you send your audience to sleep?
I couldn’t agree more. It isn’t just a matter of showing you know your stuff, you also have to keep it entertaining. If you gather ten bits of info on Heathrow, they may all be things most people wouldn’t know, but some are going to be more interesting than others. Which are interesting enough to share is a matter of personal judgement. You also have to take account of the sort of story you’re writing and the kind of character you’re writing about. You have to be selective.
You may say, Okay, that’s fine if I’m writing some story set in an airport on the outskirts of London, but what if I’m writing about a space port on the planet Tiktak, or a forest in the magical land of Jellybean?
It doesn’t make any difference. The kind of detail you would use in a real setting is the same you would use in a fantasy one. You’re not trying to educate the reader or showing off your personal knowledge of airports, you’re establishing your firm grasp on the information you’re relaying.
If I was writing about a character who worked at McDonald’s I might tell you something about working in the kitchen that would fascinate and horrify you. If the character was working in the castle kitchens of Henry VIII, the details might differ, but the intention would be the same: I’m going to tell you something you didn’t know, but now that you do, you aren’t going to forget it.
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