Suspension of Disbelief

Over and over again, I find myself referring to something called Suspension of Disbelief.  While I do feel I have explained it well enough to be understood in the other posts, I realized that it really does deserve a post all to itself.

Sort of an official place marker on my site.  Hell, without doing this correctly, no one would enjoy works of fiction very much.  To learn the history of the phrase, check out the link below, but I’ll paraphrase it for you.

Suspension of Disbelief:

Writing in such a way that people will forgive the unrealistic elements in your story.

The official mechanism for this is called Cognitive Estrangement.  What that means is that you’re basically taking advantage of people’s tendency to connect to a certain part of your story at the same time as their ignorance to make your story seem realistic.

Now, I know how that sounds.  It sounds terrible.  It sounds like manipulation.  And in a way it is, but don’t worry.

We’re using our powers for good here, not evil.

First of all, everything we’re writing is for entertainment purposes, correct?

I certainly don’t write fiction so that I can brainwash people into buying my novels.  I write fiction so that people will enjoy it, maybe even enough that they’ll keep buying the novels I write.

And that’s what the manipulation is for, promoting the author’s enjoyment by manipulating the idea of what is, and isn’t possible.

Think of it like this.  When people read a book they want to be taken in, they want to invest in the story and the characters correct?  They don’t want all the glaring inconsistencies in facts/science/whatever to jut out at them like their a neon sign at a rave.

No, they want to actually be able to settle in and enjoy themselves without using their logical minds over and over again.

That’s what suspension of disbelief is for.

To do this properly, you need to do two things.

1. Make Your Story Relatable.

How do you do this?  There’s a ton of components to it.  Largest of which are characters, pacing of story, setting, etc.  All things I’ve either covered before or will be covered in the future on my site.  What you need to focus on here is adding the factor that’s going to draw people in.

In my opinion, this is the most important part.  If you do this correctly, then no matter how implausible your story, they’re going to love it for the characters, or the amazing world you constructed it in, or the cool city you used at the setting, etc.

This is giving your audience every reason to absolutely love your story.

If this is done right, readers will be extremely forgiving of the possible pitfalls in logic, or science, or concept.

If you get this right, you’re already more than half way there.

2. Do Your Research

Yes, research.  It’s terrible I know.  Sifting through facts, or hunting down a contact with experience, or any other form you must do.  I know, it can be tedious and frustrating because as writers we usually just want to write, instead of plan.

But here’s the rub.

If you don’t make things as grounded in fact as you possibly can, people are totally going to notice all those liberties you’re taking with everything else.

This is where you have to be very deliberate with your plot elements people.

This is where your attention to detail will pay off.

Take a look at this quick example:

Say someone is morphing into a werewolf.  How do they change?  Are you going to come up with your own transformation?  Are you going to use the Native American legends about the process?  What about the African, or the Asian, or the European?

How will you describe the transformation?  Is it going to be beautiful and seductive, or will it be painful?  Will you hear bones crack and joints creak?

See my point?  Granted, the werewolf thing isn’t too hard to swallow for audiences anymore, hell there are more than enough books/movies that are heavily steeped in this element.

What I’m trying to drive home here is that if you can base the fantastical parts of your story in some kind of fact, or accepted lore/science/whatever, not only will it make it seem more plausible, but at the same time make it more interesting.

Brings to mind the expression I like to use, “a new twist on an old one.”

So what do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Think I’m nuts?  Whatever you do think, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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