Thursday, 23 February 2012

Suspension of Disbelief

Originally posted November, 2011

Run away!
photo credit,
Ah, suspension of disbelief, or as I like to say, 'buying into anything Stephen King writes.' Quite simply, it's believing in a premise which you would never accept in the real world. No kidding. Try explaining the plot of IT to someone you meet at a party.

Me: "Okay, there's this clown-thing that climbs out of the sewer and terrorizes little kids in a small town in Maine."

Other person: "Riiiiight."

Stephen King does it much better than that, but you know what I mean. And if you were at that party, you'd run over, probably dripping chip dip down your shirt in all the excitement, and say something like, "Holy crap, I love that book. Remember the big spider? And that poor kid with asthma?!"

So, as writers, how can we make our readers believe in something that they know is impossible?

1. Describe the mundane parts of life in your fantasy world.

Across The Universe, by Beth Revis, she concentrates on her protagonist eating bland stew served through a metal portal, jogging in a tunic instead of her sports bra and shorts, and how there isn't a real sun, but only lights high above. It is effective because it grounds the reader in that world by comparing the familiar with the fantasy.

2. Ease your reader into the world.

A good way to do this is by using a transitional scene, or down the rabbit hole, named for the beginning of Alice's adventure. It should involve your protagonist, be grounded in the familiar, and have a logical sequence.

We're all willing to board the Hogwarts Express, but if Harry looked at platform nine and three quarters, and then just waltzed through the brick wall, we'd all cry 'shame'. The charming appeal of that scene is that Harry is abandoned at the station, embarrassed to be pushing an owl around, clueless and pathetic looking. When Mrs. Wesley takes him aside and gently explains how it works, we all breathe a sigh of relief because at that point in the story, we're right beside him, feeling clueless and pathetic as well.

3. Make the rules consistent.

If your teenage superhero can only fly at night, then he can only fly at night—
even if the girl he secretly loves is dangling from a runaway hot air balloon at high noon. Don't change his abilities near the end of the story to make the plot work.

Give suspension of disbelief a try. Let your characters experience something extraordinary, and see what happens.

What's your favorite writing example of suspension of disbelief?

Next Monday I'll be telling you how Justin Timberlake and myself have started a petition to get Sheriff Graham back on Once Upon A Time. Until then, enjoy the Oscars!



Aubrie said...

Great post on making your world real! (also fantastic examples.) I love "It" and the clown character made me look at the drain differently!

LisaAnn said...

Love this post! I was just talking about suspension of disbelief this morning, and I hadn't thought about concentrating on the mundane. Excellent advice!

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