Writing Realistic Details to Suspend Your Readers’ Disbelief

To convince your readers that the world you have crafted is real–or at least that it could be real, somewhere–you need to include realistic details.

As Rebecca McClanahan advises in her Guide to Writing More Descriptively: Word Painting, before a writer can pull the reader into the story, ‘she must first convince the reader that the events of the story could actually take place within the world of the story.’

Readers become engaged when they believe. In the world of fiction, where smart readers know they are being played, where it is no secret that the settings are figments of writers’ freaky imaginations, there is only one truly successful method to help them believe.

And that is to give them realistic details to which they can cling when unrealistic characters appear, and when improbable event happen.

When your story—no matter how fantastical it may be—is filled with real-world plants or characteristics or commonplace items, it makes the rest of your tale and the oddities therein seem plausible. In her brilliant tale Mrs. Caliban, Rachel Ingall’s first guides readers through a day in the life of the MC. She fleshes out her character and world with familiar elements, in such rich and vivid detail, that the reader is instantly engaged.

This is a bit of manipulation on the part of the writer. But let’s not be coy—making up stories is our bread and butter, and our readers know it.

By the time the implausible 6 foot 7 inch green monster appears on page 25 of Mrs. Caliban, the reader is prepared to accept its reality in the world of the story. Sure, the reader is shocked. But she is also willing to go along with it, because she has become engaged with the story through Ingalls’ wise application of minute, vivid, plausible real-world details.

Remember though, the details you choose to employ need to be dramatic, not static. Don’t just describe the physical attributes of a radio—use a bit of metaphor to bring it to life. ‘It was one of those old single knob stereos that looked like a gothic cathedral, and the music it produced always always came out in slightly haunting tones.’

When your setting is described imaginatively, as a vivid, active, living force in the world, readers will not become impatient for your human drama to begin. They will happily lose themselves in your imagined world, perhaps even before they get to know your characters.

So when you’re writing your setting, don’t just give a rundown of its physical nature. Bring it to life, even if it is a radio or a wooden box. In my psychological thriller, The Light of Lexi Montaigne, I go so far as to describe a scene from the perspective of a small, hand-carved wooden treasure box. This works, because it lends a surreal tone to a moving scene in a surreal book, and because the box itself is of vital import in the scheme of the narrative.

Details—vivid, life-giving, and realistic. Take your time and be imaginative. Employ metaphor, think outside—and sometimes even inside—the box. Even if your setting is on an alien world, your readers need some familiar object to which they can tether themselves.

For inspiration, check out this opening line to Janet Fitch’s White Oleander: ‘The Santa Anas blew in hot from the desert, shriveling the last of the spring grass into whiskers of pale straw.’

Notice how Fitch breathes life into simple grass through metaphor, calling them ‘whiskers of pale straw’ which conjures images in the mind. She wisely uses the verb ‘shriveling’, a powerful word that readers’ hearts latch onto and which instantly creates vivid pictures in the mind.

You have the knowledge and experience to enhance your writing. Use these tools to draw your readers in, make them suspend disbelief, and to make their minds engage with your world. So do it—and have fun doing it!

Here Mike Duran offers writers 5 ways to help their readers suspend disbelief. Check it out.

3 Tips to Writing Successful Characters


Characters are the conduit through which your readers encounter, interact with, and explore your written world.

It is therefore crucial that they possess certain engaging qualities. Imagine following Bella Swan through Middle Earth. It just would not have been the same.

While there are plenty of useful qualities to instill in your characters, I have discovered (through reading and writing and publishing) that three resound especially well. They are:

  1. Characters who possess a unique trait, peccadillo, or habit that sets them apart from everyone else, making them instantly memorable.
  2. Characters with more than an ‘arc.’ They need a flood, something they will fight tooth and nail to survive and overcome
  3. Characters must have a great passion for something. This passion will flavor their every decision, dialogue, and act as they move through your created world. This passion gives them a zest for life that should leap off the pages and make readers fall in love with them

Writing Successful Characters

Unique traits make your characters distinct from each other and from other literary persons; they also lend credibility. In Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, his MC Roland Deschain has a habit of rolling his finger around in an impatient manner whenever someone is taking too long getting to the point. Despite his almost mythical nature, this peccadillo brings him down to earth and humanizes a hero.

For a character to learn something (as all MC’s must do), you need to create a wall, nearly insurmountable, for them to encounter and decide to climb. This not only creates intrigue, it also pushes your character to the breaking point, forcing her to perform drastic actions she never would have considered before.

Also, readers love characters brimming with life, people who display zest enough to infuse each page with enthusiasm and meaning—same as with real life.

At the risk of alienating Twi-hards, I would once again point to Bella Swan. When she circles the drain of depression and becomes a zombie for several months in New Moon . . . well, that was dull. She had no passion. The book didnt become interesting until she decided to go and save her precious vamp boyfriend.

In contrast, Merry and Pippin in Lord of the Rings were engaging and likeable for their simple love of life. They have no real depth, but that doesn’t matter. They enjoy living, they enjoy loving things (eating, mostly), and they are adventurous. Even though they long for home, they don’t whine about it; they relish certain moments during their journey.

Write What You Love

Maybe we could learn a thing or two from the troublesome hobbits.

Enjoy the moment. Wherever you are in your life, embrace life. Whoever surrounds you, embrace them! We may miss the old days, but in the future we may look back on today with fondness, wishing we could go back and ‘do it all over again’ but enjoy it and be grateful this time around.

Forgive my tangent. I wax nostalgic this time of year.

Perhaps the point is that we should find a way (if we haven’t already) to develop a zest for life, a passion to go with our peccadilloes which, when combined, might just help us overcome the roadblocks in our own lives. And, armed with this knowledge and experience, we will then be able to expertly and successfully write such life and experience into our characters.

They say ‘write what you love’ and ‘write what you know.’ Good advice—especially when you love life and know how to write it.

For more on this subject, this love letter to yourelf and to your readers, you might check out this slick post.

How to Write a Young Adult Fantasy Novel Like a Boss

There comes a time in every writer’s career when he/she must throw caution to the wind and offer the world a peek into his/her deepest imaginings.

This is where W.A.N.D. comes in. I had a blast writing this fantasy. Some of its pages and scenes are products of the dark haunted corners of my psyche, places where I would not normally venture. But I believe these ventures have resulted in some riveting scenes, and I wish to use my experience in writing this particular book (my eleventh or maybe twelfth) to help other, slightly less-experienced writers along their journey.

With some 50,000 books published each year (that’s only the traditionally published ones, mind), it is incredibly difficult to produce a novel novel. To do so means being bold, fearless in your endeavor.

You can’t just write another tale about a poor orphan farm boy who realizes he is heir to a great legacy stretching far beyond his humble origins (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Eragon, Lord of the Rings, Eye of the World, Sword of Shanarra, The Dragonbone Chair, to name but a few examples). You need to come up with something new.

Something new.

That’s a daunting task, when you consider the millions of books that have gone before. So how does a writer (in this case a fantasist) accomplish this task? Continue reading “How to Write a Young Adult Fantasy Novel Like a Boss”