Or, to put it another way, would you want to read a story by someone who doesn’t know what they're talking about?
In fact, even if someone sounds like they don’t know what they’re talking about, that’s enough to turn off most people. They don’t want to read that guy’s story, or listen to his views, or spend any time in his presence.
When it comes to communicating with people, especially people you don't know personally, to ‘sound like’ you know what you’re talking about is more important than actually knowing what you’re talking about.
If I know my subject, but because of nerves or poor preparation or whatever, I end up sounding like I don’t, that’s what people will react to — how I come across. They won’t believe me, even if I’m telling them the truth.
On the other hand, if I have no idea what I’m talking about, but I present myself well, with confidence and a convincing level of detail, then I can get away with murder. Sometimes literally.
The part where you intersect with other people is the crucial moment. That’s the only part they see and that’s what they judge you on. However great you are when you’re on your own or in your head, nobody sees that but you. What counts is what you put out there.
So, how do you make sure you sound like you know what you’re talking about?
Well, you could actually know your stuff and practice your delivery so it comes across clearly and convincingly. Either through experience (write what you know) or through research (write what you’ve found out).
If you happen to have expertise in a particular area, using that subject in your stories will add a level of authority and authenticity. If you happen to be an expert on Northern European mythology, like Tolkien was, perhaps you can create a fantasy world as fully realised as his (that’s right, “write what you know” can be used to create dwarves and dragons).
Or you could bluff. If you can make what you write seem convincing, that’ll work. The problem is most people aren’t that good at faking it. And that includes those who think they are. We spend our lives dealing with people trying to pull a fast one and being suspicious of dodgy types. It’s no easy task to fool people even some of the time.
The same way you can tell the difference between a confident person and one who’s trying too hard, most readers can tell the difference between a writer who knows what his story is about and one who doesn’t, whether that story takes place in a prison or a spaceship or somewhere over the rainbow.
The other option is to find out just enough to make your fiction feel real. A little truth always helps make the massive lie that much easier to swallow. This is probably the approach most people take, and when it’s done properly it works fine. But often it can come across as half-assed and wishy washy.
If you really want people to listen to what you have to say, you either need to know your stuff, or you better be a damn good liar.
Can good craft make a mediocre story seem worthwhile? Does poor grammar make readers lose confidence in a good story? Would be interested to know what you think.
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