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Authenticity: Perfecting the Recipe


My fiction students and I have spent a healthy amount of time talking about how to achieve authenticity in our work. The trick is not going too far nor withholding too much. In work about a specific subculture, historical era, region with unique speech patterns, or other worlds in sci-fi/fantasy work, how do you give the reader enough to make the world feel real and authentic and yet not so foreign that the reader struggles for meaning?

I have a habit of using cooking metaphors—spices/flavoring additives in particular, when talking about different prose aspects. For example, using exclamation marks is like adding a couple dashes of hot sauce per. One or two: flavor may be enhanced, but more than that and hot sauce is all the reader tastes. Appropriate and clear use of basic punctuation (commas, periods, etc.) is like having adequate seasoning with salt and pepper.

Our job as writers is to provide enough of the flavor of the world to feel authentic. Some successful ways to do this include unique patterns in dialogue that distinguish a region (or planet or subculture's dialect) without laying on the cayenne pepper too thick as to distract. Woo your reader with aromatics—what does the setting smell like, sound like—get the senses involved. And focus on including telling details that are unique and authentic to your narrative. Readers want to be immersed in the worlds writers create, and with the right recipe they will feel authentically engaging in your work.

#starvingwriter #writinglife #influences

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