Readers want truth


Fake news has no place in good books!

The Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (the one whose skeleton has just been found in a wine cellar!) suggested that if a writer could infuse a ‘human interest and a semblance of truth’ into an obvious work of fiction, the reader would happily go along with an improbable tale (known as the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’).

So, in this era of fake news and alternative facts, how does a writer convince the reader he or she is telling the truth? I would suggest, it’s through the use of convincing detail.

I was a teenager in the famous hot summer of 1976 (please don’t do the maths!). I remember the endless airless days, the lack of rain, the dry, cracked lawns. I hadn’t thought about that summer for years, but Joanna Cannon in The Trouble with Sheep and Goats,  took me back there in an instant. She layers her novel with so much convincing detail that I almost suffered from heat exhaustion. She also evoked the period so well – Angel Delight and custard creams, the Generation Game, Angela Rippon, Blue Peter. She doesn’t look old enough to have been around at that time, but clearly her research has been meticulous.

And that’s what good writers do – they texturise their writing with so much detail that it has the appearance of truth – even if the events described never happened. We are much more likely to believe in emotional veracity and be convinced by plot, if the scenes feel ‘real.’

Even if we want to deliberately mislead our audience with unreliable narrators or false clues, we won’t be successful if we haven’t immersed them in a ‘semblance of truth’ to start with.

So good research leading to convincing detail is essential for our readers to be engaged. Even if the news is fake, everyone will still believe it!