Making a Story Feel Real
What makes a story real? What keeps it down to earth? It is my feeling that two things help contribute to giving a story that feeling that the reader is really there. The first is writing what you know and the second is integrating everyday activities into your stories.
Writing what you know is important. That doesn’t mean you have to write strictly from your own experience, but it does mean that you should do appropriate research so that details can be injected that help the reader picture themselves in your story. As an example, I once took a set of characters to Plymouth Massachusetts during the summer. I did research and wrote the scene. The following fall, I visited Plymouth and discovered everything I did wrong, and now I cringe when I read that scene. The details I used might pull someone who has been to Plymouth out of the story. Now, having been there, I’d use very different details. In hindsight, I should have taken my characters to a place I knew better. I learned my lesson well and for my Love Means… series of stories, I used the farm near the house where I grew up as the basis. I did alter the farm, but it has a basis that’s real enough to come through for the reader and myself.
Injecting everyday details into your story is quite easy and can be incredibly effective. The trick is to tie into activities your reader already knows. Many of us drink coffee, so having a conversation around a table where your characters sip coffee helps pull your reader into the scene. The action doesn’t take many words, but it helps place the reader in the scene and the interaction between the characters. Another location that works particularly well is a group of men around a poker table. Of course, there are similar locations that work for a group of women as well; for example in a historical setting, the ladies sitting in the parlor for tea. A few words around the conversation can help add realism and action, hopefully pulling the reader into the scene.
Unfortunately, it is also possible to go too far and include things that make things a little too real or include too many details that bog the story down or slow the pacing. As an author, that’s one thing I try to balance in every story I write.