Friday, March 5, 2010

Suspension . . .

. . . of disbelief. This is a key to reading fantasy, science fiction, and maybe a bunch of other stuff as well. We, as readers, are asked by the authors to believe that there is one ring to rule them all, one ring to bind them . . . a castle in the heart of England that is a school for wizarding children, that dragons exist and can communicate telepathically, and so much other stuff.

We, as readers, suspend our disbelief as we immerse ourselves in these fantastical and fabulous, sometimes quite ordinary, worlds created by some of the great writers of our time, times well before our own, and times yet to come. We, while immersed in the words of these writers, believe in telepathic dragons, magic rings, and boy wizards.

I also believe there is a fine line between suspension of disbelief and out and out what the heck moments. I'm not sure it is a line writers should cross, unless the book is totally tongue in cheek.

As with the conflict appearing on Page 141 of the book I just finished reading on Wednesday, there were quite a few moments where my suspension of disbelief just didn't hold. There were things the main character did that, well, uh, just didn't make sense. No person of that age - at least no person I've known or read about - would do what this person did. At that point, I disconnected a bit from the story.

I don't think we need to disconnect from the stories we are reading and we certainly don't want our future readers to disconnect from the stories we are writing. The immersion into our brilliance needs to be as complete as possible without suddenly jarring moments that disconnect the reader.

So, if I'm reading an epic fantasy novel and one of the main characters is a 7 year old, well, I want that character to act like a 7 year old and not a 27 year old. Yes, I've read a book like that where the thoughts and actions of a 7 year old were, well, far too adult. There was a disconnect. 7 year olds, at least the ones I've known, were not capable of what the 7 year old in this book was capable of doing. D-I-S-C-O-N-N-E-C-T!

As writers we need to remember that suspension of disbelief only goes so far. We must not, so I believe, cross the line so that the readers can no longer suspend their disbelief.

Question: have you ever been disconnected from a story because of the actions of a character? Has a character every done something that just didn't make sense? Do you just blithely ignore these disconnects? Do you - like me - pause for a moment, furrow your brow, and then continue reading? Am I the only one inspired by these disconnects, the break in suspension of disbelief, to write a blog post devoted to the subject?


Update: on my work in progress, as of Wednesday evening (I'm pre-writing this post), I only have one chapter left to finish. Woo-hoo!!!


beth said...

Ugh--I hate it when the suspension of disbelief is broken.

Tess said...

"Gonna find my baby gonna hold her tight gonna grab some afternoon rockets in flight. Afternoon delight. AAAAAAAFffttter Afternoon delight!"

sorry. saw your comment over at Elana's and had to come sing to you.

okay. got that out of my system. ah! that was fun. cathartic even.

It is an interesting point you bring up here Scott because I am right at the point in my WIP where some pretty fantastical elements are being revealed (about a secret society) and I feel like I have to tread very, very carefully. I put one character in just to say "no way..that's impossible" to finger out those concerns. Then, the other character explains how it isn't so impossible.

anyway .. we have to be careful as writers to make if fun and creative but not over the top. it's a tall order when you are writing stories that NEED to have some of these elements in them.

Scott said...

Beth - me too, thus the post!

Tess - you just had to sing, didn't you? My day was going so well! Ha! It is definitely a very fine line, and I understand how easy it is to cross. At some point, even as a writer, with distance at its limits, we should note when we've crossed the line and pulled our readers out of the story. I've even tried to analyze (sorry, years of psychology courses) why the character might have done what he/she did . . . and nothing, nada, nope! The actions just didn't make sense. Oh well, I'm sure you'll do much better.

Now, what was the name of the group that sang that song?? Huh?

Tess said...

Are you kidding me? The Starland Vocal band! I had all their albums , er album. and a poster of them on my bedroom wall.

either that or I just googled them to find out the name ;)

and, now I'm in trouble here at work cuz I keep singing that song and my boss came by and said, "What are you singing?" and I said "you remember that song Afternoon Delight" and he had a weird look in his eyes and I think he thought I was SUGGESTING something. Crap!

Elana Johnson said...

Yeah, I hate that too. I usually keep reading, but it bothers me when the characters do things that aren't believable. :)

Robyn Campbell said...

Uh that would be the Starland Vocal Band. Now what do I win?? Huh? *she thumps her fingers on the desk* I'm waiting...

Oh, and about your post. You don't actually get up and type fresh stuff over here at your house? I mean Wednesday stuff? Really! It's all fresh and new over at Putting Pen To Paper. =)

And there is a fine line And woe to the writer that decides to cross it.

Thanks for your wonderful thoughts about us my pal. Have a super weekend.

Bethany Wiggins said...

Scott, I gave you an award today. Thanks for being awesome!

Angie said...

It's definitely a fine line. (I write sci-fi/fantasy). The worst case I've experienced of being unable to suspend disbelief was actually a movie: Dead Man's Chest. Ugh. I hated it. I'm glad to have found your blog from Shooting Stars.

Jemi Fraser said...

Over the years I've read a ton of scifi & fantasy. I'm pretty willing to go with the flow for the most part. But when I hit one of those "what the heck???" moments, it ruins it for me. Sometimes I'll finish the book anyway, but I generally won't pick up another book by that author.

ali said...

haha! So, so true! Oftentimes, if there's more than one of those moments (the disbelief that's not just suspended but fully devoted) I'll stop reading.

Your example of the 7 year old kid made me think of the cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender. This kid's supposed to save the world. He's supposed to be this most amazing guy who can control all the elements and is super wise and awesome.

But he still likes to goof off. He flies around in the sky and gets himself in trouble. He pulls jokes on people. He rolls around in the mud with a monkey.

He's a kid. He's a BOY. Because he's totally believable AS A KID, it ensures that I can suspend my disbelief and TOTALLY BELIEVE that this is a world where people have elemental gifts.

Great post!

Scott said...

Tess - OMG, you made me laugh out loud . . . and I couldn't stop. 'Afternoon Delight' and you said it to your boss!! I couldn't remember the name of the band until I posted that question, but I remember the song . . . way too well. Still laughing.

Elana - I keep reading, but I'm not as invested in the book after the disbelief is ripped away from me.

Robyn - I do the posts when I'm inspired and then make you wait for them. Ha!

Bethany - I like to thank the Academy and . . . THANKS!

Jemi - as I told Elana, I normally finish the book, but it's just not the same. : )

Angie - thanks for droping by . . . and daring to write sci-fi and fantasy! Kudos!

Ali - there were a few moments in the book, but I was close to the end, so I kept reading. : )

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post. I must admit I've never read a published book that's done that. Neither have any of the books I've critted. It would be a huge turn off though.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I'm just piping in to say - yeah, agree with your post, and hey, cool blog! visiting from shooting stars.

VR Barkowski said...

Most of the time, I'm an easy sell with character behavior, but I tend to read character driven rather than plot driven fiction. When my belief *is* challenged it's usually the result of a savvy character doing something stupid to move the plot forward.