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5 Ways Writers (Try to) Fake Their Way to Good Storytelling

good storytellingLast week, I found a meme on Pinterest that showed someone dispensing two different soft drinks into the same cardboard cup. One of the drink buttons was labeled “Feeling stressed out when writing” and the other was labeled “Feeling stressed out when you haven’t written.”

It’s funny because it’s true. The writing life is constantly high-tension. Every moment we spend writing (and many that we do not) comes with the demand that we remember and successfully execute dozens of different concepts. It’s no wonder the stress occasionally gets to us! (Pour me another soft drink, please.)


In these moments of distraction or exhaustion (or, let’s admit it, sometimes just laziness), we don’t always give the page our all. We stick a half-cooked beat between two more important scenes. We doublespeak our way past technical inaccuracies. Or we not-so-deftly create a smokescreen to disguise a character’s less-than-authentic emotional evolution.

We all do it. I’ve done every single one of those things in every single book I’ve written—always hoping no one will notice. And sometimes they don’t. But it’s never something I’m proud of (i.e., haha, look what I got away with!). Rather, it’s always something that niggles at me once a book passes its grunt stage and starts cooling in post-publication.

It niggles because all these dodges point to the even more telling shortcut of faking it.

Fortunately for us, the sheer size and complexity of most narrative stories usually provides the cover of enough moving parts to distract from those few scenes where we painted in the mountains instead of going on location. Most readers will either miss or excuse the occasional moment of fakery.

But insofar as artistic integrity is important, we must guard against the temptation to just phone in our writing. The better we get at not phoning it in—at not faking it—the better our stories will become.

5 Ways Writers (Try to) Fake Good Writing

Art of Fiction John Gardner

The Art of Fiction (affiliate link)

A few months ago, I read John Gardner’s classic writing instruction manual The Art of Fiction. One section particularly resonated with me. Veteran writing instructor that he was, he pulled no punches when describing a fatal “frigidity” that can undermine storytelling:

The writer lacks the kind of passion all true artists possess. He lacks the nobility of spirit that enables a real writer to enter deeply into the feelings of imaginary characters (as he enters deeply into the feelings of real people). In a word, the writer is frigid.

Basically, what ol’ John is saying here is that if my writing stinks, one of the reasons might well be that what I actually need to work on is my “nobility of spirit.” Owwwwch.

It sounds a little high-falutin. But I believe it’s true. There are any number of reasons writers might resist or repress their own nobility of spirit. The cause might be anything from inexperience (both in life and in writing), fear of failure or embarrassment, greed for money or fame, or even just confusion.

We all have these moments—when we turn away from the difficulty, the discipline, and sometimes even the pain of writing honestly and skillfully. Sometimes these moments last for a sentence, sometimes they last for a scene, and sometimes they permeate whole stories. Regardless, they are always symptomatic of at least a temporary “faking it.” The author is distancing himself from the rawness of the work.

And in so doing, he is failing.

Why? Because the very heart of storytelling is nothing more or less than a willingness to confront the rawness of life. It is only by doing so that we ever write anything that is true, anything that is real, anything that resonates—and by extension anything that truly entertains or influences.

Today, let’s consider five ways writers sometimes unwittingly try to fake their way past the hard parts of good storytelling.

1. Writing on the Surface

What makes for good storytelling? To me, the answer always comes down to two factors.

1. The story is entertaining. (It keeps my attention while I’m engaged with it.)

2. The story is insightful. (It stays with me after I’ve finished it.)

Although each individual reader or watcher’s mileage varies a little in determining which stories fit this bill, we usually find a general consensus in the stories that become lastingly popular.

The one other commonality found among these evergreen stories is the engine that first made them both entertaining and insightful. That engine is the author’s ability and willingness to dive under the story’s surface, straight into the deep end (and note this is just as true for fun adventure stories as it is for heavy dramas).

Gardner went on to say:

Strictly speaking, frigidity characterizes the writer who presents serious material, then fails to carry through—fails to treat it with the attention and seriousness it deserves. I would extend the term to mean a further cold-heartedness as well, the given writer’s inability to recognize the seriousness of things in the first place, the writer who turns away from real feeling, or sees only the superficialities in a conflict of wills, or knows no more about love, beauty, or sorrow than one might learn from a Hallmark card….

When a writer writes on the surface, she is trying to wring out all the advantages of her subject matter’s “good stuff,” without actually paying the price required to personally access and share that good stuff. Usually, that price begins to be paid in our own life experiences—and is then brought to the page with diligent and sometimes painful honesty.

We see this problem all the time in the concept of “following the market.” One writer breaks out with a story that feels unique in its earnestness and honesty. Other writers, thinking the original story’s success was due more to genre or concept than execution, try to cash in. Sometimes these writers are genuinely inspired as fans of the original work. But unless the writers can take that inspiration past a surface recreation into the zone of the deeply personal, they are seldom able to replicate the original’s success.

2. Stooping to the Fake Emotions of Sentimentality

I saw a shirt for sale the other day that proclaimed,

Feel all the feels.

This is exactly what writers must do. But true emotion on the page is more difficult to create than cheap sentimentality.

Sometimes, it can be difficult for an invested writer to initially tell the difference. Back in the day when I ran a critique service, I received dozens of manuscripts packed full of feels—but more than a few didn’t resonate. Many felt like the authors were phoning in genre conventions (“and they fell truly madly deeply!”) rather than searching their own souls for the truth within their characters’ experience.

To some extent, this is a newbie mistake, due as much to poor technique as anything. But even experienced authors can find themselves trying to shoehorn their characters into plot situations where they’re supposed to feel certain things—when, really, it’s not working. This is the classic problem of trying to make characters do “what they don’t want to do.” When this happens, it’s a sign the writer is (probably unconsciously) faking some part of the story. Gardner calls this sentimentality or…

…the faking of emotions the writer does not honestly feel.

3. “Respecting” the Audience Too Much

What “write for your audience” really means: Write a spiffin’ good book.

What “write for your audience” does not mean: Do whatever they want.

Allow me a rabbit trail, err, hedgehog trail…

A few weeks ago, fans of the video-game character Sonic the Hedgehog got a little spiky about the (admittedly really creepy) animation in his forthcoming movie of the same name. The movie’s peeps started freaking out and promised to completely redesign and reanimate the character before the movie drops.

I have zero investment in this film beyond my two cents that, yeah, eww, what were they thinking? I do tend to think a different design for the character would serve the movie better, although I have a feeling it will do little to ensure a box-office success, much less a good film.

But… all of this is to say I feel this incident points to something we’re seeing increasingly more of in storytelling circles: the creator bowing to the audience (or, in some cases, a specific portion of the audience).

The intent, of course, is to create a story that is exactly what the audience wants—and will, therefore, pay for. But as we can see from the slew of inglorious stories (especially movies) in recent years, you don’t get great art by polling your followers on social media.

Good storytelling is born out of the creator’s passion for every detail of a project. There is (or should be) a reason for every choice made in a story. Inevitably, as we revise, we realize not all those choices actually had reasons as good as we originally thought. So we kill some darlings. But we never kill them just because someone else tells us we should. We do it because we agree with an objective outside opinion, one we believe will improve the story we’ve labored over and loved for so long.

4. Disrespecting the Audience

On the flip side of the above, writers have no business ignoring their audiences. Living in an ivory tower and sniffing at the “poor slobs” down there who wouldn’t get good art if it smacked them in the faces is no better than caring too much what the audience thinks at the expense of your own vision.

Writing an excellent story is always about trying to see every moment and every choice from the readers’ perspective. How will they experience this? Have you written it so they will see it the same way you do? Or have you have taken it for granted they will follow you around anywhere you go, just because?

Secrets of Story by Matt Bird

The Secrets of Story (affiliate link)

In his excellent common-sense guide The Secrets of Story, Matt Bird points out:

Getting an audience to truly care about any character, even an ostensibly “likable” one, is tremendously hard. It requires an overwhelming act of shared empathy on the writer’s part.

Don’t miss that last part about “shared empathy.” No faking allowed. If you want your audience to believe in your story, the first reader who has to believe in it is you.

5. Discounting the Importance of Story

I will never believe a story—any story—is unimportant. Every story is a building brick in our world. Shoddy bricks contribute to walls that will crumble. Solid bricks, however, build bridges to the future.

This is why I believe storytellers bear a great responsibility. Maybe, like me, you started out writing just to have fun. Some people start camping for the same reason. But they’ll tell you that the moment they step into the woods or the mountains, they become responsible for the world all around them. They’re responsible to protect the trees from their campfires. They’re responsible to protect ecosystems from their trash. They’re responsible to protect animals from themselves and themselves from animals. It’s not just fun and games.

So it is with writing a story. The moment we start crafting those exhilarating on-page experiences—and especially the moment we first share those pages with someone else—we become responsible for the effect—great or small, good or bad—of our writing upon the world.

Gardner again:

When the amateur writer lets a bad sentence stand in his final draft, though he knows it’s bad, the sin is frigidity. He has not yet learned the importance of his art, the only art or science in the world that deals in precise detail with the causes, nature, and effects of ordinary and extraordinary human feeling. When a skillful writer writes a shallow, cynical, merely amusing book about extramarital affairs, he has wandered—with far more harmful effect—into the same unsavory bog.

There are so many “fake” stories out there, so many trashy stories, so many crumbling bricks. I’ve contributed some myself, which is why I think perhaps the most important pursuit for any writer is for us to, first, learn to sniff out our own fakery and then to strengthen the mental muscles required to confront and overcome it.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Can you think of any more ways writers sometimes “fake it” instead of going the extra mile with their stories? Tell me in the comments!

(My apologies to those who prefer to listen to the podcast, rather than read the post. I’m still trying to beat this Cold From Hell, so I can get my voice back well enough to record.)

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Point #3 is excellent. But.

    Like you, I don’t have a hedgehog in the fight, so I’ll leave that one alone, but I do have an emotional interest in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The cartoon series was excellent and well crafted. Some of the most poignant moments in the visual arts were captured in this children’s offering and is still a favorite with my adult children. So when they went to make a live-action version of it, why they handed it off to M. Night Shyamalan is beyond comprehension. He took your advice and didn’t bow to the crowd’s expectations, remained true to his vision, and created something that (apologies to Douglas Adams) was almost, but not quite entirely unlike the original. Hence the box office flop. That’s because he didn’t listen to the rest of your advice.

    In writing, we must be true to our emotional inner selves in order to be authentic, but at the same time, we need to beware of becoming anachronistic to the story we are creating. I could easily imagine a budding writer trying to re-write Mark Twain from a “woke” perspective. The clash would be too jarring to read. You are absolutely correct that we need authenticity all the way around.

    Another great post. Keep up the good work.

    • He didn’t bow to audience expectations… and also didn’t really seem to understand the story *or* characters in any way whatsoever.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        I have to admit I’m not really that familiar with Sonic. My brothers had a game I sometimes played when we were young, but that’s extent of my experience. I just know the new design was creeeeeeppy.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally true. Sonic probably wasn’t the best example; it was just off the top of my head due to recent events. But this actually raises another aspect of what’s going on in big-bucks storytelling right now–and that is movies (and sometimes books) capitalizing off an existing fanbase rather than earning their own. Sometimes it works out all right; usually, not so much.

    • Great article and analysis, as usual! @Rick Presley This is the same thing (writers ignoring #4 and #5) that makes it all too often heartbreaking to be a DC or Marvel superhero comic book fan these days… 🙁

  2. crbwriter says

    Thank you! I’m digging for emotion, one scene at a time, and it’s taking far longer than I expected. Your post is encouraging. All the best to you!

  3. andrewmfriday says

    Helpful content in this post. For me, I find myself faking a scene or a conversation between characters–especially in the first few drafts. I do this until I find a better way to present the story. It’s almost like I use the weak spots as bookmarks to come back to later and replace them with subtext, or find a better way to tap into that emotion that is needed.

    Thanks again for all the great advice in this blog.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I can always sense when I’m faking something (although I don’t always realize right away that’s what’s going on). There’s just something “off” about scenes like that. They don’t feel right. Really, what’s going is that they don’t feel “true.”

  4. HawkLeigh says

    This is exactly what I needed to hear!

    Yesterday I began, and today I’m finishing up the last chapter of my very first novel before diving into revision! I’ve been hiding from this final chapter for a few months now, taking every excuse life could give me until finally I was confronted at a writer’s conference last weekend about this same topic. The speaker explained that when a writer hides from genuine (not faking it) conflict and climax in their story, the issue lies deeper within the writer, that they are hiding from the raw emotions necessary for good story telling.

    This blog post has really helped me fully analyze and embrace what’s necessary for me to get through this struggle I’ve been dealing with!

    I also followed the link to your “Kill your Darlings” blog post, and I finally feel ready to go start my revision process now too! I’ve been hiding from that the past few months as well, that being the other hinderance to actually finishing my book. I knew once I actually finished it, I’d have to revise it.

    Again, I just wanted to thank you for your keen and honest blog posts just like this one that have consistently revolutionized and revitalized my writing!!



    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Kudos to you for recognizing what was going on! Honesty is both the best and the hardest part about writing. It’s incredibly cathartic and often deeply insightful to the author as well as the reader, but it can be painful getting there.

  5. I see this of bowing to the audience mostly by movies. For example, in the book “The Circle” the end *spoiler allert* isn’t the same as in the movie which has imo a forced happy ending because the audience would not like an unhappy one.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I definitely see it as a more prevalent issue in movies as well. But in part because movies are such a prevalent influence in pop culture these days, I see the effects creeping over into books as well. The poor habits that are becoming mainstream in major movies are being reflected back by authors in many different mediums. You know what they say: you are what you eat. 😉

  6. Very well done. Shows how noble and worthwhile deep honest storytelling really is. And how deep one needs to go to plumb the depths to reach that level of shared humanity or to just allow it to present itself on the page.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I hate it when people refer to writing as a “hobby.” What it is–what it should be–is a lifestyle.

  7. Guilty of it myself, which is probably why I was never satisfied with my first novel. There was a cute story but no depth. Until this post, though, I could never put a finger on the reason. Thanks for this, Kim. I’ll do better the next time around.


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I look back at many of my early novels and flinch, not so much because of the bad writing but because of some of the fakery going on.

  8. David Franklin says

    “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
    — Robert Frost

  9. Ah, I had always diagnosed the scenario in #2 as “elevating plot over character.” This is the one where movies have the characters split up after learning there’s an axe murderer around, and it’s because the writer wants them to be picked off one by one. No one would split up in real life, and characters who behave that way in fiction never ring true.

    But #1, the surface writing, is what I’ve been seeing so much of in beta reading. I literally just finished a critique for a guy who has an awesome premise, but he’s not dealing with the consequences of that premise. If A is true, then B and C are also true, and this leads to consequence D,E,F, and G. The story would be so much richer and deeper — and cooler! — for dealing with his equivalent of D,E, F, and G, but he hasn’t yet. I wouldn’t go as far as Gardner and suggest there’s a problem with his soul, though 🙂 I would agree with you that it has more to do with a lack of knowledge or experience.

    But this is timely for me, because I’ve been pondering something that Lois McMaster Bujold does that astonished me as a writer when I first saw her do it: she fundamentally alters the lives of her protagonists, in a way that can utterly poleaxe me as a reader. I love her for it, especially since the fundamental change she makes in one book is a direct result of dealing with the consequences of her protagonist’s character flaws. That’s marvelous!

    Talk of movies reminds me that the actor Will Smith said he ended the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” partly because he wanted to leave on a high note … but also because as a man he’d matured enough that he had to regress as a person to play the Fresh Prince character. He wanted meatier, more mature roles.

    If you are growing as a person, then you can’t stay “all surface,” in your work as a writer. And if you’re writing a series, then your characters can’t stay static from one book to the next. You can’t stay true to the character if they never change. I suspect Poirot’s static nature is the reason why Agatha Christie came to hate him.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      McMaster Bujold is a great example of an author who is brilliant with consequential actions. One of the best, I’d say, especially in genre fiction.

  10. How do we sniff out this fakery in our own writing?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ultimately, it takes time and experience. But one of the best ways to speed up the process is attempting rigorous honesty with oneself, especially about one’s motives, in both writing and life. Trying to get to the heart of what beta readers are saying is useful too.

  11. Highfalutin 😉

    There is danger on both sides. If we dig for the truth, we are going to get dirty. And, we may discover something our readers don’t want to see. If we polish it up too much, it likely will blind them, and they will turn away. Sometimes, we need to wrestle with them in the mud. But we mustn’t sell them dirt. Go where they are, but lead them somewhere better.

    You might enjoy this annecdote from Flannery O’Connor speaking of her mother I stumbled upon:

    “The other day, she ( Flannery’s mom) asked me why I didn’t try to write something that people liked instead of the kind of thing I write. Do you think, she said, that you are really using the talent God gave you when you don’t write something that a lot, a LOT, of people like? This always leaves me shaking and speechless…. All I can ever say is, if you have to ask, you’ll never know.”

    Yes, we love our mothers, but we cannot expect them to understand why we wrestle in the mud. Writing done well is a dirty business…

    • On highfalutin, the eBook for When the Wood Is Dry: I. Call of the Innocent just received a 4-star review including:

      “Not great literature, but a captivating story.”

      While I would not mind someone calling my work “great literature,” that was never my goal. I was going for a compelling story. But I’ll take captivating…

      I appear to have successfully avoided the highfalutin “great literature” label.

      So, let me now shamelessly plug my captivating, almost compelling, story that is not quite great literature but is free on Amazon:

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s hard to be Flannery in the quote department, but your first paragraph there is giving her a run for her money. 😉

  12. steve walker says

    I think phoning it in is a result of getting tired of the project wanting it finally to end…and that is when you see the story falling apart the last 60 pages…laziness…tiredness…it needs to end…this is when we need to be the strongest.

  13. Watching Game of Thrones has really made me realize how many stories don’t deal with the seriousness of their own topics to their fullest potential. Even if you’ve never read/watched Game of Thrones, undoubtedly you’ve heard about how Martin mercilessly kills off characters.

    The thing is about Game of Thrones, not a single death is needless. It’s never thrown in “just ‘cuz.” There are so, so many reasons for a character death (the biggest reason being that not killing them in certain situations would be unrealistic) and it hits the audience in the guts that much more because of it. The audience is going to feel the death because it feels authentic. A character dies. The other characters in the story aren’t just going to shrug it off, it’s going to impact them for years to come, which Martin does successfully. And because Martin isn’t going to pull his punches, the audience “feel the feels” to the fullest potential. There is every chance that the worst is going to happen. (Which, of course, leads to an invested story.)

    This is an excellent post that seems to be echoing some my own realizations about authentic writing. As I’ve really only written for myself thus far, I haven’t really worried about catering (or not catering) to an audience. Not yet, anyways. My personal concern is to not be afraid to open up my vulnerable parts and to watch for when my inexperience is getting in the way of a good story.

    I love your blog and honestly love Mondays because of you. It’s fun coming to the blog and seeing what you have chosen to tackle, whether or not I needed to hear it (I usually do :)).

    Happy writing!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “As I’ve really only written for myself thus far, I haven’t really worried about catering (or not catering) to an audience.”

      With publication (or, often, just the desire for publication) comes the inevitable and necessary awareness of an audience. But I truly believe the best way to write to *your* audience is to write first and foremost for yourself as a reader. That’s the niche you’re trying to fill. So good for you!

  14. Casandra Merritt says

    Great post! Yeah, real, honest characters are hard to come by these days. And I agree that my favorite stories are the ones that challenge.

  15. ingmarhek says

    What a home run of a blog post!
    It made me confront and assess my writing.
    It also made me want to read John Gardner’s book.


  16. Hoai Viet Han says

    As a relative newcomer to the writing lifestyle (dropped out of school for it!), I have wittingly attempted fakery as a means to combat perfectionism, but I couldn’t stand it!

    With a story too dear and characters too beloved, I seem to get stuck correcting what I produce, ever revising, ever editing. And the more I do so, yes, the sharper my eye seems to gear itself towards art… but that nonetheless results in neverending revisions and little writing at all. Your recent posts about artistry spoke to me, though I’ve by no means any right to feel anything from those since I’ve not even made it to “author” level yet. Thus is my quandary; to keep struggling against the river’s current and advance at a snail’s pace, or leap onto the grimy stepping stones, if only to reach the other side and continue the journey? The answer seems obvious. They ARE stepping stones, and the river would be there to rinse off the filth in the end, but it is the first step that I find so hard. To decide to indulge in mediocrity… jagged the rocks may well be. Is there another path? I don’t know. Eventually, I’ve no doubt I’ll get there. It is only a matter of effectiveness, of how much blood and tears and pain get involved.

    On the other hand, I suppose an uncompromising attitude towards art ought to be worth something… right..?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You raise excellent questions here.

      Although I enthusiastically advocate for quality artistry, it’s important to remember that craft comes before art–and craft is a learned skill. We all start out messy, and none of us ever achieve perfection. Perfectionism is a roadblock. It is much better, I believe, to instead pursue passion and professionalism. I commented on that in this post: Judge Yourself Less, Trust Yourself More, and Write Better Stories.

  17. Excellent post. I have been struggling with the whole frigid thing in my current manuscript. It’s especially frustrating because I’ve had other stories that I’ve been very honest in (and very proud of, even though they weren’t publishable) so I feel like I’ve regressed and I’m not sure what changed. Me, obviously. Maybe honesty is something you constantly have to re-learn, re-struggle with. Or maybe some things are just easier to be honest about than others.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Maybe honesty is something you constantly have to re-learn, re-struggle with.”

      I so totally believe this.

  18. Great article! I realized that I also do these things sometimes. Very helpful, thanks! 🙂

  19. Tom Youngjohn says

    Get better quick.

  20. Cass Lee says

    Hi Katie! I arrived at the same conclusion* as you do after months of rejections from literary journals. When I write from intellect alone, nothing works. But when I write from my heart, the story goes somewhere.


  21. Brilliant offering as always! Thank you Lady Weiland.

    What resonated most with me was your section on responsibility. I straddle both sides of the literary fence serving both as writer and editor. I’m just that obessessed with storytelling. Anyway, once or twice I’ve come across a manuscript that was so …socially “irresponsible” I was forced to send it back to the publisher with my raised hackles barley concealed!

    Writing and storytelling are some of the most powerful mediums out there because they influence thought and thought influences action. How many intellectuals suffered under totalitarian regimes simply for writing material that questioned or poked holes in their propaganda? Even today, true freedom of the press is not a given in many countries. All this to say that writing influences thought, thought influences action, so writers have to be incredibly aware of what they’re saying and the effects their words might have. We should always be making an honest effort to make the world better with what we write.

    That said, I’d better go re-write the ending for the princess and the dragon… 😉

    Get well soon in the meantime!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “All this to say that writing influences thought, thought influences action, so writers have to be incredibly aware of what they’re saying and the effects their words might have.”

      Hear, hear! You inspire me with this!

  22. I entirely agree, but I still find it impossible to empathize with my characters as with real people. I don’t care about them, I just want to carry on a good story. It never works, of course. But I don’t know where to find this true voice of mine, where I can believe in and cry with my own fiction. I suppose I lost my heart somewhere… or can’t manage to let it free.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Have you tried dreamzoning (as I talk about in this article)? For me, that’s where the connection to my characters comes in. The rest is largely head work.

      • Thank you for the link! I just listened to the podcast and think it might be a good solution for me. I’ll try and keep you informed if it puts life in my characters and stories. Be amazed today by the work done through your blog, pouring life and significance into virtual and real people 😉

  23. When I fake it with my characters, especially my MC, she just sits there and gives me a disapproving look. “You clod, I just dug into my deepest soul and agreed to marry this man I’ve grown to love, and you make it sound like a business deal. like I’m buying a lawn mower. Be me! Get under my skin and feel what this means. A lifetime commitment to someone that I still barely know, except that I know he’s a good man and he loves me with all his heart. If you can’t communicate that, go away!

    That’s when I dive into her soul, feel every pore of her being, and her pen tells her story.

    It’s hard work. Not every character is alike and sometimes what they feel, think, and see is not what I expect. My antagonist is psychotic and I’m learning a great deal about the psychotic mind. It’s not unreasonable, just crazy.

    Love your posts. You are a great help, especially on the novel timeline and character arcs.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah. My characters usually aren’t that helpful. Mostly, they just sulk in the corner. :p

  24. mary george says

    “We do it because we agree with an objective outside opinion, one we believe will improve the story we’ve labored over and loved for so long.”

    Double-check your story.
    Delete the filler.
    Polish every sentence.
    Know your genre, then scour the acknowledgements for an editor.
    Find that “. . . objective outside opinion, one we believe will improve the story . . . “

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A good editor can make all the difference, especially early on in a writer’s career.

  25. Anastasia says

    Wow, amazing article. I could say this for 90% of the stuff you post, but this has never occurred to me. Now I want to reread those books.

    I think I’m having a problem with 1# with one of my WIPs. I had this character go through this traumatic experience.Yet afterwards he felt completely off and now i’m thinking it’s because I haven’t delved deep enough into his emotions after the experience and seen how it will affect him later on.

    To be fair I wanted him to brush it off and get on with the main plot. Though writing out this couldn’t hurt and might enrich his character more.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hindsight brings a lot of objectivity. Sometimes I can’t fully grasp what’s gone wrong with my approach to a story until a good amount of time has passed.

  26. Matt Godbey says

    What an insightful article! K.M., with each passing post and over the years you’ve been steadily honing and sharpening a keen understanding of what story really is. I marvel at your perception and ability to convey all this stuff to us in such a clear way, and I’m so glad you post these. Thank you.

  27. Elizabeth Richards says

    My pet peeve for faking it is when a writer cheats on the motivation of a character. This can lead to whiplash—wait a minute, why did she do that? At it’s most extreme it leads to charges of murder. Hmmm, I need a dead body here, whom should I kill? Oh, wait, let me introduce a little old lady with a dog and then my villain can kill her—brilliant!

    Okay, it’s a wee bit extreme levelling a charge of murder but I think there is something in the idea. Either the victim is such a cardboard character, it doesn’t matter if they die, or the character is so realistic, the reader feels a true loss. Either the villain is a cardboard killing machine, or she struggles with the decision to kill and the consequence to her soul.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is something for all writers to be aware of. Usually, it results when the author knows what’s supposed to happen in the plot–and has to inorganically manipulate the character into making it happen.

  28. Dennis Michael Montgomery says

    I don’t know. In my case, sometimes I feel I need a lesson in faking it.

  29. Great topic and thoughts along with it as always! Curious, though. How do you reconcile this “What “write for your audience” does not mean: Do whatever they want” in the age of so-called sensitivity readers?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If the sensitivity readers are teaching us to be more sensitive and aware as *people,* I’m all for that. But if they’re encouraging us to censor our own honesty and truth, then I’m not for that at all. If we take all the raw edges off art, it will no longer reflect life.

  30. Really interesting article K.M. I’ve just written a fight scene in my story and I don’t know if I’m happy with it. But I plan to leave it and trundle on with the rest of the plot on the justification that I need to get the story down in first draft form as quick as I can. Does this equal fakery,or is that a risk only if I don’t get back and work on that scene in a later draft?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      We all write fake stuff, especially in the first draft. As long as we’re aware of it (or become of aware of it) and fix it before it reaches readers, all is well.

  31. Great article. I ended up having to do some strip mining of my soul because I just wrote a scene where during a Warrant Raid, one of the characters (Marshal Pam Harmon) catches a bullet. She isn’t hurt badly (her body armor stopped it), and she got out with some cracked ribs and nasty bruises. But I know from experience, it doesn’t stop there. A call that close does funny things to the mind, and when she wants out, I had to stop and ask what the leadership function was here.

    Will opts to tell her about how being injured in the line of duty had impacted him. Since Will’s wife, Jewell, is also the teams counselor, she’s in on the conversation. We’re not going to see every conversation between Pam and Jewell in this book (i’m saving that for Dead Cold). Indeed, Will won’t even be involved with them and knows nothing about what they discuss.

    Will’s job as team lead is to make sure his people get the help they need. It’s not his job to fix them (he doesn’t know how), and that should be reflected.

  32. Would faking it also include writing essentially the same story in sequels? I see it with series from traditionally published Christian authors who write suspense/crime/romance novels.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes and no. Stories, especially within certain genre conventions, are often similar. It depends on whether the authors are “feeling it” or just phoning it in.

  33. Yes to all this! Garner is excellent. I do want to caution, though, that new writers may feel paralyzed if they try to avoid *all* faking it during the first draft. Sometimes you need a little handwavium or “insert emotional monologue here” to get to the end. Occasionally it’s okay to fake it till you make it to the end of the first draft. But then expend the emotional energy to replace the fake bits with real ones during revision.

  34. You mention Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. I had a tough time getting through this material. My use of the word material is a pejorative here. As a beginning writer, I found Gardner’s book quite a slog to get through. So much so, I couldn’t wait to put it down. Perhaps, I don’t have as much patience as I think.

  35. Carl Kjellberg says

    Opps, typo- it is Brene Brown whom I quoted.

  36. Jessica Salmonson says

    One of the many reasons why 20 some chapters were cut out of my WIP.

    also, this is the biggest problem long time players have with one online game World of Warcraft! they keep trying to please all the loudest (usually newest) players with they think they want and in doing so toss away what made the game great in the first place. Personally for me being able to log in and just play how I want when I wanted was great.

    Then the “hardcore” (obsessed) players wanted this and that and that let to the game makers completely killing most of the freedom in the game by making it so gear (armor and such) became more important than the gameplay itself. Before you worked hard to get the best gear but even if it wasn’t you could compensate with your sill in how well you played your character class. Now you have to go into dungeons with groups to be able to earn the gear needed to even advance in the game at all.

    I like doing quest chains or grinding to relax. Can’t do that anymore because it’s all blocked due to the dang new gear that you have to have. Oh, and the gear is on a time limit so if you aren’t there during that week it’s available then you don’t get it.. and can’t move forward at all. Before even if your gear wasn’t great you could level grind to keep going and find or make better gear along the way.

    It’s not just stories that suffer from fakery it’s games too. I’m not even going to go into how they messed up the game’s lore. !@#$ (I quit the game after playing it for about 7-8 years.) The game’s story (Lore) was fantastic and I miss it. 🙁


  1. […] to improve your skills? K. M. Weiland looks at 5 ways writers (try to) fake their way to good storytelling, and Shaunta Grimes focuses on how to be a better artist (there is only one […]

  2. […] 5 Ways Authors (Try to) Fake Good Storytelling | Helping Writers Become Authors […]

  3. […] 5 Ways Writers (Try to) Fake Their Way to Good Storytelling […]

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