Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Years ago, I had one of those supervisors you tend to loathe. A real Type-A personality. And we all know what the A represents. Even so, there was one thing he said that has stuck with me ever since:

"Credibility is king."

Don't you just hate it when somebody you can hardly stand comes up with a real gem? Kind of gnaws at you, doesn't it?

What that supervisor said, though, applies to everything in life. Consider the politician who overstates his record and then is called on it. People who might have voted for him suddenly change their vote. Or consider the preacher who secretly had an inappropriate relationship and is now exposed. Sure, he can still preach if that is what he's called to do; just not in your church. The list can go on, I'm sure.

In his book Beyond Style: Mastering the Finer Points of Writing, author Gary Provost dedicates an entire chapter to the issue of credibility as it concerns writing, both fiction and non-fiction. In fiction, credibility comes into play when your character does something that is... well, out of character. In the book On Writing, Stephen King writes about how he noted that one of his characters said something that didn't quite fit. And it's not just them. While reading my own manuscript, I had to write this on the first page:

"Worrisome? Not worrisome, but a nag!"

Here's what had happened. Toward the end of the novel, a character had demonstrated her own personality, and everything I had previously thought about her had changed. So, when I came back to reading through the manuscript again, I already knew I needed a revision. Without the revision, the reader would have stopped and said, "Wait a minute. I thought she was the timid type." And just like the politician who loses the vote, or the preacher who loses the pulpit, a writer who presents uncredible characters loses the reader.

In his book, Gary Provost writes about a friend who states that he drafts a small biography for each character before writing any novel. That way, he can keep track of who is who and how each one will react. I don't know that I will go that far. Ever. For me, one of the joys of writing is discovering who the characters are along the way. Fixing the issues is what revisions are for.

By the way, if you've never read Beyond Style, I highly recommend it. It has good reminders for the experienced writer and some solid insights for all.

Other News:

Last week, I was excited to look at the Writer's Digest Your Story competition and see that the editors had selected my story as one of the final picks. Without giving you the title to my story, I only ask that you Forumites take time to read the stories and vote.

Last week, I also finally sent off a story to Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. I'm slightly nervous about this one. For me, there's a real game change in the emotions every time I'm about to send a story off to one of the bigger names. I can't explain that. It should feel the same either way, right? Or maybe it shouldn't.

Maybe it's the credibility thing, only on a different level.

Until next time...


  1. Great post and very well worth noting for one's personal lifestyle.

    I'm sure you did your best and it will be the way it will. Send it and forget it :-)

  2. Character credibility is a great topic and the book I just read was a perfect example of how straying from a character's establish patterns of behavior can be jarring.
    Just finished "T" in the Sue Grafton series. Kinsey Millhone, her PI heroine, is much the same as in the other novels, but in "T" she has adopted a pretty salty vocabulary. The other books would drop the occasional f-bomb or other such profane ordinance, but it was comparatively rare. In this novel, it just felt off from what I knew of the character.

    Good post. And good luck with the "Your Story" entry. Very noble of you not to solicit votes, particularly when you know everyone else in the contest probably is.


  3. Paige: Thank you for the encouragement. The story has already been rejected, but at least I tried.

    John: Thank you for the comments. I've never read a Grafton book, but if there's one you consider to be her best, I'll put it on the list.

  4. I just popped over to Your Story and am glad to see I am not to late to vote. Whew! I'll read them over and vote by the weekend.

    I also commend you for not soliciting votes. That makes at least two of us that do that. (No, I'm not in this one.) Good luck.

  5. Thank you for stopping by, Jon. My approach has been to let readers vote their conscience. I would hate for them to vote for a story because of friendship when they connected more with a different story. Liking a story should be based upon that connection. Although I like Koontz and King and Leonard, there have been novels that I didn't like at all. The connection fell short. So, to steal a slogan from a news program, my position is this: We write, you decide. Or in the case of a competition like this, maybe it should be: You read, you decide.

  6. Stephen, you're just an all-around good guy. Which connects perfectly to the topic of credibility.

    Good luck in the contest. Glad you got something from Beyond Style. It's been a favorite of mine for many years.

  7. Thank you, Greta. I appreciate the kind words. And I also want to say thanks for the recommendation on Beyond Style. It was a good book.

  8. I said what about you?????

    come on over and find out