I was at the Happiest Place on Earth on Monday, and it occurred to me that Disneyland is sort of live-action fiction. You wander through all of these very detailed, distinctive fictive neighborhoods, waiting in line to get on rides that simulate space or fairytale lands or somewhere under the sea (cue Sebastian), etc. The whole park is actually built above ground level–you’re walking over a series of tunnels that “cast members” use to travel to and from the different lands (in order to preserve the magic element of the park). I think the word for it is verisimilitude: everything has the appearance of truth but isn’t really true. It can feel a little like walking through a book.

But even if you immerse yourself totally in the experience, it’s easy to get to reminded that what’s going on around you isn’t real. All you have to do is turn around (or look up at the rafters) and you see carefully concealed emergency exits, strings of lights, security cameras, animatronic ghosts and pirates and animals repeating the same canned movements. Most rides depend on the rider keeping his or her butt in the seat (and hands safely inside the ride at all times!), facing forward, never turning to look back behind. Of course, people do turn around and look up.

Maybe there’s a lesson for writers in this: you need to assume that your reader is going to turn around, look back, glance upwards. Disneyland does a remarkably good job of creating an alternate world (except for It’s a Small World, which kind of looks like it was set up in an empty hotel ballroom, with track lighting on the ceiling and exposed staples and exit signs everywhere) but if you look closely, you can always see little signs to remind you that this is all Made Up. When you’re writing, you need to try to make sure that you conceal those types of signals. Sometimes that’s making sure you don’t miss continuity errors (“Jean” becomes “Joan;” a 14-year-old neighbor celebrates her 12th birthday, etc.); sometimes it’s making sure that your protagonist’s actions and emotions make sense based on how you have established him/her so far and where his/her arc is going. Make sure your readers aren’t asking (unintended) questions along the lines of, How come I can still see Captain Jack Sparrow inside the Pirate’s cave while directly in front of me he’s locked up in a jail cell? Such as, Why is Rachel suddenly attending the dance that she spent the last 30 pages trashing? And at all costs, avoid slowing down the pacing to a stall (the equivalent of the dreaded “The ride will be moving shortly” announcement); you don’t want your readers shifting in their seats, waiting for something to happen.

I am clearly not “waiting for
 something to happen” here.

Not all works are striving for verisimilitude with the real world, but whatever environment you are creating should be as seamless as possible. You want your reader to believe in its authenticity. Whether you’re building the world of a suburban high school or the kingdom of the Mer-people, remember that your readers will be looking in all directions.