The Problem With Reality / Author Warren Bull

The writing process is fraught with pitfalls. Remove the usual suspects like procrastination and lack of time and you still have real limitations. In this week’s blog, author Warren Bull muses about the writing process and how, sometimes, reality is hard to accept.

Happy Reading!

Clay Stafford
Founder Killer Nashville,
Publisher Killer Nashville Magazine

Warren Bull

The Problem With Reality
By Warren Bull

During my thirty years as a clinical psychologist, I saw many people who had problems discerning what was and was not real.  I assure you those who cannot identify and react to what the great majority of people experience as reality have very difficult and unpleasant life experiences.  When your own perceptions betray you, the world is uncertain. Anxiety and depression are frequent reactions to the uncertainty.  The use of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs in an attempt to moderate internal states makes sense at some level.

I am fond of reality. I recommend it over all other contenders.  As a writer, however, reality presents a number of real limitations. I see other people who have problems with reality. Here are mine:

  • Heartland, Warren BullRealism in writing is hard to achieve.  Realistic-sounding dialogue is quite unlike actual dialogue.  Court transcripts don’t make fascinating reading.  Casual conversation is even less enthralling — full of “ums,” unfinished sentences, clichés, and people talking over each other. It’s important to listen to real conversations, maybe even reading your own writing aloud, to make sure that it flows.
  • Coincidence is an issue in plotting.  As the old saw has it, truth is stranger than fiction.  Happenstance is hard to convey believably.  As my statistics professor once explained, unlikely events happen much more frequently than people expect. In horse racing, for example, bettors consistently over-estimate the odds the favorite will win. Sadly, even with this knowledge, my professor was no better at picking winners than anyone else. How to eliminate coincidence? Foreshadow. Set the reader up so that when something happens, when they look back, they can see that it was always coming.
  • Believability is always at issue. Over the years in the course of my work I have known, among others, people who sold drugs at the wholesale level, people who sold their bodies to survive, people convicted of murder, and people who killed other people for money. On most of the occasions when I wrote about these people, the feedback I received was that my writing lacked credibility. Just because something happened, does not mean describing reality accurately will appear factual to readers. The solution to this is to create characters who are real and then pepper them with the unbelievable and memorable.

These are my problems with reality (and a few solutions). What are yours?

If you would like to read more about Warren Bull’s books please click here.

Warren Bull has won a number of awards including Best Short Story of 2006 from the Missouri Writers’ Guild, and The Mysterious Photo Contest in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, January/February 2012. Forty of his published short stories and novels, Abraham Lincoln for the Defense, Heartland, and Murder in the Moonlight are available at Two short story collections, Murder Manhattan Style and Killer Eulogy and Other Stories are available at He blogs at Warren is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime and an active member of Mystery Writers of America.  His website is

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