Hi, gang. Craig with you once again to talk about something directly related to the kind of fiction I write. It’s called the suspension of disbelief.
Most of you’ve heard of this, but likely glanced off it and didn’t give it much thought. Specifically, it means that to enjoy the story a reader is going to have to give control to the author and give up the idea that certain things cannot happen in the real world. (Hint: this isn’t the real world.)
You know by now I always talk about film because more people understand what I’m referring to. Think of all the superhero films that have taken over Hollywood in the last few years. To enjoy them, people have to suspend disbelief. Superman flies, get over it. People can’t fall twenty stories, then catch a flagpole with one hand either.
You can see how this applies to science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal tales, horror, too. It actually goes farther than that today. We see it pop up in all kinds of urban fiction now. You’ve seen those machine gun battles where nobody ever gets hit, the cops never show up, nobody runs out of ammo, cars wreck and explode and there’s enough brass on the ground to build a statue of John Wick. It requires a suspension of disbelief.
Now that we’ve got the basics down, there’s more to it than asking for it. In fact, the author shouldn’t ask at all. Go about your business and expect readers to understand. Seriously. I think a better place to explain what a reader will experience is in your blurb.
I write a series with a magical talking hat. I offer the idea that he’s a creature from another dimension, then shut up about it. Readers are either along for the ride, or they aren’t. I don’t offer a lot of explanation.
In fact you can pick apart any of the speculative genres to the point of ruining them for yourself. The classic example is, “Why didn’t Gandalf and Frodo just ride the eagles to Mt. Doom in the first place?”
Rather than explain why the killer’s chainsaw always starts on the first pull, just write the tale if that’s your thing. I’ve never had a chainsaw that starts that reliably. Writers should present it just that way. Readers don’t want to stop and pump the bulb, maybe clean the spark plug while the tense moment is happening.
As a personal example, my hat is a limited kind of shape shifter. He’s been everything from a hair clip to a diving helmet. I don’t stop to examine mass, physics, elements, or any of the rest. When he needs to transform, he does it and we move on.
If you write in any of the speculative genres, don’t spend too much time selling the functionality. Describe things and paint a vivid picture for sure, but don’t go into how it works. Star Wars was a lot more fun before metachlorians.
I suggest that if you have a fantastic element that you include it early in the story. Don’t wait until the last chapter, where the rest of the book seems pretty normal. Give readers a clue that things are different here. “A drink for Bob, to celebrate that time when he fired an arrow over half a mile and it landed in the goblin king’s head?” That can set the stage for something readers will experience later, but you don’t need much more than that.
Feel free to weigh in down below. I love chatting with all of you.