Verisimilitude is the "lifelikeness" or believability of a
. The word comes from la, verum meaning truth and ''similis'' meaning similar. Language philosopher Steve Neale
distinguishes between two types: cultural verisimilitude, meaning plausibility of the fictional work within the cultural and/or historical context of the real world, outside of the work; and generic verisimilitude, meaning plausibility of a fictional work within the bounds of its own
Genre () is any form or type of communication in any mode (written, spoken, digital, artistic, etc.) with socially-agreed-upon conventions developed over time. In popular usage, it normally describes a Category of being, category of literature, ...
(so that, for example, characters regularly singing about their feelings is a believable action within the
A fictional universe, or fictional world, is a Consistency, self-consistent Setting (narrative), setting with events, and often other elements, that differ from the real world. It may also be called an imagined, constructed, or fictional realm ...
Musical is the adjective of music
Music is the of arranging s in time through the of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It is one of the aspects of all human societies. General include common elements such as (which governs and ), ...
Verisimilitude has its roots in both the Platonic and Aristotelian dramatic theory of
Mimesis (; grc, μίμησις, ''mīmēsis'') is a term used in literary criticism
Literary criticism (or literary studies) is the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often influenced by li ...
, the imitation or representation of nature. For a piece of art to hold significance or persuasion for an audience, according to
Plato ( ; grc-gre, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was an Classical Athens, Athenian philosopher during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought and the Platoni ...
Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher
A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy
Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questio ...
, it must have grounding in reality.
This idea laid the foundation for the evolution of mimesis into verisimilitude in the
In the history of Europe
The history of Europe concerns itself with the discovery and collection, the study, organization and presentation and the interpretation of past events and affairs of the people of Europe since the beginning of ...
particularly in Italian
An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem
Narrative poetry is a form of poetry
Poetry (derived from the Greek language, Greek ''poiesis'', "making") is a form of literature that uses aesthetics, aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of ...
. During this time more attention was invested in pinning down fiction with theory. This shift manifested itself in increased focus on unity in heroic poetry. No matter how fictionalized the language of a poem might be, through verisimilitude, poets had the ability to present their works in a way that could still be believed in the real world. Verisimilitude at this time also became connected to another Aristotelian dramatic principle,
Decorum (from the Latin
Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Ro ...
: the realistic union of style and subject. Poetic language of characters in a work of fiction as a result had to be appropriate in terms of the age, gender or race of the character.
This classical notion of verisimilitude focused on the role of the reader in his/her engagement in the fictional work of art. The goal of the novel therefore, as it became a more popular form of verisimilitude, was to instruct and offer a pleasurable experience to the reader. The novel had to facilitate the reader's willingness to suspend his/her disbelief
, a phrase used originally by
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (; 21 October 177225 July 1834) was an , , and who, with his friend , was a founder of the in England and a member of the . He also shared volumes and collaborated with , , and . He wrote the poems ' and ', as well ...
. Verisimilitude became the means to accomplish this mindset. To promote the willing suspension of disbelief, a fictional text needed to have credibility. Anything physically possible in the worldview of the reader or humanity's experience was defined as credible. Through verisimilitude then, the reader was able to glean truth even in fiction because it would reflect realistic aspects of human life.
The idea that credibility, and in turn verisimilitude, rested on the reader's sense of the world encountered opposition because of the dilemma it created: every reader and every person does not have the same knowledge of the world. This kind of theory suggests that the novel consisted of distinct parts. The way novelists avoided this dilemma initially was by adding a preface to the work of fiction stating its credibility or by including more references to known history within the text of the fiction.
As more criticism on the novel surfaced, the inclusion of a preface or a scattering of some historical references was not enough to engage the reader. French theorist
Pierre Nicolas Desmolets
Pierre is a masculine given name. It is a French language, French form of the name Peter (given name), Peter. Pierre originally meant "rock" or "stone" in French (derived from the Greek word "petra" meaning "stone, rock", via Latin "petra").
' notion that the author should obscure the fiction or art of the novel to avoid destroying illusion: the made up attributes of the text. The novel before was perceived as a work of distinct parts. Now the novel was not thought of in terms of separate parts, but rather as a work as a whole. The novel was a total illusion of life within itself. It was a closed fictional world that could establish its own rules and laws. Verisimilitude then became deeply rooted in structure. The focus of credibility did not rest solely on the external world of the reader; the novel's credibility then could be seen in terms of the novel's own internal logic
The focus of verisimilitude was no longer concerned with the reader. The focus shifted to the novel itself. Verisimilitude was a technical problem to resolve within the context of the novel's fictional world. Detail centered on the creation of a logical cause web in the text that then could reinforce the overarching structural logic of the plot.
During the rise of the
Postmodernism is an intellectual stance or mode of discourse defined by an attitude of toward what it describes as the and of , as well as opposition to certainty and the stability of . It questions or criticizes viewpoints associated with ...
novel, some critics suggested that truth or significance lies beyond verisimilitude and that only by complete non-discursive freedom to encounter a novel could meaning truly be discovered. Verisimilitude, they argued, was not the first aspect of the text a reader experiences. The reader instead first tries to observe if the novel works as an intelligible narrative. The lens of verisimilitude is applied only after the reader establishes if the novel makes sense or not.
The reader can understand the novel as art but not necessarily as a cultural construction. The novel should challenge the construction of reality. In this sense, it was possible for art to precede reality. Reality had to catch up to the text rather than text staying present to reality. A boundary existed establishing that text does not belong to a current time or situation. In the postmodern context, verisimilitude was less of a concern for the novelist according to some critics.
Application of the concept in the arts
In the production of the classic
A superhero film (or superhero movie) is a film
A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of used to simulate experiences that communicate ideas, stories, perceptions, feelings, beauty, or atmosphere ...
Superman is a superhero
A superhero or superheroine is a stock character that possesses Superpower (ability), ''superpowers'', abilities beyond those of ordinary people, and fits the role of the hero, typically using his or her powers t ...
Richard Donner (born Richard Donald Schwartzberg; April 24, 1930 – July 5, 2021) was an American filmmaker whose notable works included some of the most financially-successful films during the New Hollywood
The New Hollywood, also referred ...
had a picture of the
The title character in a narrative work is one who is named or referred to in the title of the work. In a performed work such as a play or film, the performer who plays the title character is said to have the title role of the piece. The title of th ...
holding a sash with the word "verisimilitude" on it in his office during the project. That display was to remind Donner that he intended to approach the story of the fantasy
A superhero or superheroine is a stock character that possesses Superpower (ability), ''superpowers'', abilities beyond those of ordinary people, and fits the role of the hero, typically using his or her powers to help the World peace, world b ...
in a way true to the source material that would make it feel intuitively real to the audience within the context of the story's world. The result was a highly acclaimed film that would set the standard for a film genre that would become dominant decades later.
Description is the pattern of narrative development that aims to make vivid a place, object, character, or group. Description is one of four rhetorical modes
Rhetorical modes (also known as modes of discourse) describe the variety, conventions, ...
A false document is a technique by which an author aims to increase verisimilitude in a work of fiction by inventing and inserting or mentioning documents that appear to be factual. The goal of a false document is to convince an audience that wha ...