What does it mean to be credible when writing?

I often think about this. For me, there’s a fine line between an integral truth to your writing, and entertainment. I have picked up books and, frankly, been bored by how credible they are. After all, isn’t genre fiction about escapism? What strikes me as slightly ironic about people who bang on about ‘credibility’ is that I, quite often, watch the news and realise that the world really is an odd place. Strange things happen, strange people with strange habits exist. Sometimes the real world is more bizarre than the written one.

However, I do get credibility. I do get why we need it. At the other end of the spectrum is a writer whose protagonist (normally a car salesman from Hounslow, enjoys drinking beer and eating TV dinners) is given access to AK47s, Russian intelligence and did I forget his ability to conjure up a six-pack and karate skills? I know, who knew?

I’d argue that credibility in literature has its place. For me, it’s about defining credibility. At the core of your novel, there needs to be a universal truth. For example, is your protagonist recently widowed? Did her husband get killed by a local youth when out clubbing? Does she want to find out who did it? Of course she does. Credibly speaking, we therefore expect her to get angry, cry, get frustrated and be filled with a burning desire to find out who the offender is. How is she going to do this? Well, let’s say she lives in Birmingham and her day job is working at the Bull Ring; her resources are limited. But what she does have is that hunger to find out who did it. Take her on a journey, put her in compromising situations, set up those obstacles. She becomes your own Sherlock Holmes. Not any old Sherlock, though. This one has raw emotion feeding her, making her act quickly and desperately. What are her resources? In this day and age, I’m guessing she has the internet, a phone, a car, maybe her husband hid away some secret papers. The list is endless but, most importantly, it’s real. Credible, even.

So, take your woman from Birmingham and put her through her paces. Entertain us.

Just don’t give her a red cape and dress her in lycra. That wouldn’t be credible. Incredible, yes. Credible? No.


Published by Lottie Phillips & Louise Stone

Bestselling women's fiction & thriller writer with HarperCollins.

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