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Satisfaction vs Verisimilitude

Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pyrrhic Victory.

One of the most salient pieces of feedback I received on my second draft of Wolf: Sins of the Father was regarding the believability of the ending. Though, as a friend pointed out, believability isn’t necessarily the right word. In a world where magic exists and a single man has the chance to turn the tide of a massive war, believability, is thrown right out. But the concept of verisimilitude is not.

Verisimilitude is an internal consistency. A ‘truthiness’ to a story that means all of the pieces of the story hang together as if they were real. For most of my second draft, my protagonist lives in a fairly rough world. A world that asks him to make some difficult choices. It is a world where the odds are against him. But at the end, he comes through without a scratch. Oh, a couple of not-great things happen, but he gets off too easily. That ending was satisfying to my readers, but it lacked verisimilitude. My original ending was far harsher: it lacked satisfaction, but had quite a bit of verisimilitude.

On my third draft, I’m attempting to thread the needle. I want a good balance of satisfaction and verisimilitude. I want my protagonist to have a pyrrhic victory. I think we all do, really.

Imagine a Return of the Jedi where the rebel forces just walk in and lay waste to the Death Star, again. Lame. They needed to be almost crushed for us to even care.

There are plenty of examples to this effect, which brings me back to my title. I think I have established a false dichotomy here. I think verisimilitude is a necessary component of satisfaction. It just isn’t the only component (which is how my original ending was written, as if only verisimilitude mattered).

So this time around, I’m ratcheting up the hurt on my beloved protagonist. It’ll suck for him, but it’ll be good for readers.

As should be patently obvious, Hemingway said this better with more brevity. “all stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.”

Or as Jeffery Small says,”A frustrated protagonist is a happy reader.”

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