Monday, April 30, 2012

Suspension of disbelief

Okay, so a couple of months ago I received a rejection for a short story and this is what the editor wrote.

I found this story very confusing -- I wasn't sure if the black goo was good magic or evil magic, or how the father became the doll, but especially confusing was the comment that witches are demons.
When I read this I couldn’t help but to laugh. I laughed so hard I almost spilled my guts. Can you imagine a grown man asking about black goo, magic, and how the heck a man can become a doll? Take it out of context and, yeah, we are loco la cabeza. I loved it. The best rejection ever because as a reader he wanted to believe my story.

So after I tightened the bolt in my brain, I started to wonder about the suspension of disbelief. Readers need to believe our world and our characters.

I believe there are vampire warriors with high sex drives in Caldwell, NY. (The Black Dagger Brotherhood series)

I believe a young girl has been totally traumatized for surviving the Hunger Games.

I believe that there’s a spaceship (in space, duh) housing a couple thousand people, some frozen, trying to get Across the Universe.

And I believe in magic, wizards, and witches in a school called Hogwarts. (Harry Potter)

Great characters and great storytelling makes me believe. What makes you believe?


  1. Great post, Elizabeth. I guess what makes me believe is when the author sets up their make-believe world and then stays consistent with it. I don't like to find out half way into a story an important fact that would have drawn me into the novel earlier, had I known.

  2. Love it. (Especially JR Ward's brotherhood! *swoon*)

    It's such a balance... getting everything right. And an art. It's HARD work. And all these examples you listed are author's that have NAILED their characters and story telling! Great post. :D

  3. Strong world building and authentic characters--that's what does it for me. Great post!

  4. I'm willing to believe all sorts of crazy things - as long as the insanity is consistent.

    I may not believe something in a story is true (even when I'm pretty sure it's a fact in "real life") if the internal structure of the story contradicts it. I'm contrary that way. ;-)

  5. I think the author has to earn that suspension of disbelief by presenting a believable world and only slowly unveiling the things that stretch credibility. Harry didn't find out he was a wizard in chapter one. We first meet Amy when she is about to undergo a scary medical procedure and she's being reassured by her parents -- it just so happens she's being frozen. There's a combination of ordinary and extraordinary in these books.

    I have sampled a few books on Kindle recently that failed to suspend my disbelief -- and therefore didn't convince me to buy. In each case, the author hurled the world at the reader in the first chapter -- maybe even the first page -- and said, "Here, catch!" (ie: I'm a peppy teenage girl with an uncontrollable ability to shoot laser beams out of my eyes and here I am trying to speak a coherent sentence at my crush! Page 1)

    My two cents is, suspension of disbelief happens slowly. Take your time.

  6. Yeah, suspension of disbelief is one of the challenges we have in world-building.

  7. I definitely agree that we do need to believe in the characters and story line in order to go along with whatever the author has written.

  8. Victoria, I agree. I think consistency is important.

    Morgan, I just became a fan. Love the series. =) **Swoons too**

    Anita, Thanks for your comments. Yup.

    Deb, yeah you're not alone there.

    Dianne, I think presenting the info in context is important. The example of the editor I gave is a great one. If I heard someone rambling that on the street I'd think he'd need...yeah, something. =)

    Michael and Alleged. It is hard and important. Thanks for your comments.

  9. It shouldn't be like playing racquet ball with my father. I quit playing with him because he keep changing the rules on me. ;)

  10. Haha, great rejection! I'm like you - if there's great characters and storytelling I'm sold and I suppose a lot of fantasy now has certain rules that help you believe e.g. vampires drink blood.

  11. sometimes its hard to put into words what we envision. so many different povs out there interpretting what we write to fit what they believe =)

    i like a constructive rejection! it means they liked it!

  12. The same: great characters and storytelling.

  13. This is a great question to ask ourselves as we write. Personally, i usually strive to make the setting and characters believable, as well as the backstory or reasoning *behind* the wacky stuff.

  14. Thanks and you all make excellent points. Things to think about.

  15. I'm not sure they make me believe, but they do make me think.

  16. Martin, I'll believe anything that makes me forget where I'm at at that moment. =)


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