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Monday, July 26, 2021

Suspension of Disbelief by Nancy L. Eady

 As I write this, I am sitting on the couch trying to convince my 19-year-old she will not die because some huge fire ants bit her foot. I also commented that MOST people don’t kill ant beds while barefoot. She’s not listening, though, because we also found a huge ant (that sucker was over 1/4 inch long) in the house. Now she is convinced the ants “know who she is” and are “coming to get her.” This same child has been trying to convince my husband and me that Elon Musk is evil and “planning something” which includes the destruction of planet Earth. She used to believe COVID vaccines contain miniscule bits of metal allowing the government to track the vaccinated until we let her put a magnet to our arms and it didn't stay put. Critical thinking is not her forte, unless she is parsing any parental statement, suggestion, or rule. 

Excessive drama aside, I do envy her ability to suspend disbelief. Most authors depend on a reader’s ability to suspend disbelief at least partially. The tough part is giving the reader enough details to let them enter your world while remaining consistent with your own vision of the mystery you want them to experience. And if you ask a reader to suspend disbelief for a particular situation, setting or event, you need to be consistent. Don’t ask them to suspend disbelief for one thing then throw in something contradictory.  For example, a dog walker investigates crime better than the local police can but then the police solve the crime without the dog walker’s assistance.

With certain settings, the idea of suspension of disbelief applies even when the details are true. Just because something happened in real life doesn’t mean readers will believe it.  A city dweller may not believe a law firm in a small town would leave its back door unlocked so the strange man who has spent every day for years wandering the courthouse square muttering to himself can slip in to get his daily coffee. Having worked in the law firm where it happened, I know it is 100% true. And since I plan for someone based on him to be a major character in my next novel, I must find a way to either make that believable or convince my reader to suspend their own disbelief. 

What books have you read that made suspending your disbelief easy? What stories do you write that ask the reader to suspend their disbelief, and over what issues?  

17 comments:

Annette said...

I can't remember who said it during a recent online conference, but I've grabbed the word "plausible" and embraced it. I can suspend disbelief if whatever is going on in the story is "plausible." And I confess, I have one story thread in one of my books (no, I won't say which one!) that is realistically wrong. But I address the topic in a way that makes it totally plausible.

Jim Jackson said...

As a reader, I'm willing to go way past Annette's "plausible" as long as whatever is happening in the fictional world is consistent. But if an author goes for a one-time exception to make a story work, I am not pleased.

Kait said...

Great points, Nancy. Consistency is key for me. A good read is not supposed to be a ride in the Wild Mouse. Keep it steady and I'm with you.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I like "plausible". I fact check everything with the local police and a lawyer, but still get called out by critiquers who've watched too my crime TV.

KM Rockwood said...

At one point my husband accidently killed a bat trying to get it out of the dining room. He wouldn't go out at dusk for weeks because he was sure the bat's friends would recognize him and attack him.

All fiction requires the reader to suspend belief, some more than others. I love Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy (there are actually four of them) which of course requires the reader to abandon reality on multiple levels.

In my own writing, I have gotten called out by readers (and editors) who have no concept of the rights a convicted felon signs away in order to be paroled, like the right to object to an unwarranted search at any time.

E. B. Davis said...

I read a lot of fantasy and paranormal, so my level of suspended disbelief is great. It's when the real world is not accurately depicted that I'm taking out of the story, which is why The Da Vinci Code did not pass go for me.

Nancy Nau Sullivan said...

Immediately, Steadman's Something in the Water comes to mind. While this one was a page-turner, who would believe 2 honeymooners on a dive would find a plane wreck and a bunch of clues down there? Yet, it was a goodie. Still, hmmmmmmmmm

Debra H. Goldstein said...

The Harry Potter series.... I gobbled them up and didn't worry whether they could happen or not.

Molly MacRae said...

I'll add "possible" to "plausible," "Consistent," and "believable." Also "want." I'm thinking especially of reading books to children who then say, "but I want it to be possible," and so the wardrobe, the wizarding school, or the tiger in the bathtub becomes plausible, consistent, and completely believable. Part of a writer's job is to create that want and another is to satisfy it.

Nancy, I love your story about the back door and coffee. If it weren't true, I'd believe it anyway, because you made me want it to be true. Thank you!

Marilyn Levinson said...

I go by what's plausible when it comes to "real life." I have paranormal elements in many of my books. I set up rules for them which I follow rigorously.

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Jennifer J. Chow said...

I think as long as I get immersed into the world I'm okay with suspending my belief. Cozy mysteries are fun for me to read--and having the amateur sleuth solve the case is always going to be a stretch. (And mine even feature a talking sassy cat!)