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What Does "Verisimilitude" Mean?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2014
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Verisimilitude refers to how truthful or realistic a work, usually a literary work, seems to the reader and often indicates that a work has strong internal logic. This term stems from classical usage and was once primarily thought to be the venue of the reader or audience, who were responsible for seeing a work as realistic. It has since evolved, however, and more recently has been used to refer to the responsibility of the writer or storyteller to ensure that the reality and honesty of a work is presented. Verisimilitude can be present in any type of work, including science fiction and stories that are highly fantastical.

The importance of verisimilitude is in its relationship with how well a reader can allow himself or herself to be pulled into a story. Early usage of the term “verisimilitude” stemmed from the Latin word for “truth,” and it continues to indicate the truthfulness of a work. It was originally used in reference more to the audience or reader, rather than the storyteller. In this usage, it was meant to indicate how well someone could observe the reality or truthfulness of a work based on his or her view of the world and then allow the story to engage him or her.

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More recent understanding and usage of verisimilitude, however, centers on the effort by a writer or storyteller to ensure reality in his or her work. This is most often created through strong internal logic within a story, regardless of the type of story presented and the medium in which it is told. An example of internal logic is continuity between scenes in a story. The action in one scene needs to flow well into the next scene, and disjointed action that seems to lack cause and effect can destroy the verisimilitude of a work and negatively impact the reality of a story.

Even a fantastical work, such as science fiction or fantasy stories, can still retain realism and verisimilitude. Science fiction stories are often viewed as more successful when the technology and action of the story feels real for the reader. This does not mean that the work has to be purely realistic with modern technology, but that the technology needs to make sense to the reader and feel like it comes from a logical place. Such verisimilitude can often be created by a writer considering “why” technology or social developments might take place on another world or reality, and building logic within the story to support even the strangest and most outrageous fictional creatures or devices.

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