V is for Verisimilitude

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Verisimilitude is a philosophical concept which distinguishes between relative and apparent truth. Verisimilitude presents the appearance or proximity to being real or true. If something has verisimilitude, it doesn’t mean it is true; only that it appears to be true, a semblance of the truth.

The word derives from Verum which is Latin for truth. Verisimilitude in literature attempts to depict its story as believable.

The Italian critic Lodovico Castelvetro implied the believability or likelihood of a theory or narrative. Aristotle in “Poetics” expressed literature should reflect nature. Even highly idealized characters should possess recognizable human qualities. Plausible trumps possible. The concept of verisimilitude was incorporated in the late 19th century with well-developed characters approximating real life people.

In literature, it is credibility. Either the action represented must be acceptable or convincing according to the audience’s experiences or knowledge, or the audience must be enticed into willing suspension of disbelief to accept improbable actions as true within the framework of the narrative. In other words, does it seem plausible? Details resonate. Dialogue flows.  The readers relate to the story, and they identify with the characters.

Without verisimilitude, works are criticized as “over-written.” Stagey, unnatural writing is panned as bad.

Thus, writers strive to approximate reality even within the most fanciful of stories.v-1

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