The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

This is Day 3 of Revision Boot Camp. So I’ll turn it over to Sergeant Kick Butt:

So did you tighten your character arc yesterday? Do you have some fresh backstory seeping out between the words? If you didn’t, then why are you here, Private? Do you want to become an author or just dally in writing?

 Image by SFC Peter G Verisano. Click for a full gallery of his work.

Image by SFC Peter G Verisano. Click for a full gallery of his work.

There’s nothing wrong with dallying. It’s just different.


The first two assignments were easy–today we’re starting our real challenge. If you’re NOT serious about your work, if you consider it “just fiction” as I heard in a forum the other day, then you won’t want to stay here. Go home to your mummy, Private.

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

Today’s drill is on the willing suspension of …  “What the…?” you may ask.

The “suspension” as we’ll call it is an art form, a gift, and controversial. As writers of fiction, we present a fictional story to the world, but our readers HAVE to be willing to suspend reality in their minds to take in our fiction, which is really “lies” if you think about it. Lies that can bring out gut truths.

The suspension has two sides. The author and the reader. We can’t suspend to someone who doesn’t want to be suspended to. I’ve met many people who just don’t read fiction–’cause it’s a free country and they don’t have to.

As authors, we have to master the art of reaching into the minds and hearts of the people who are willing to suspend their disbelief. Their willingness is a gift. The suspension we present has to be close to flawless, or they sit up mid-sentence and say, “This is crap.” and they close the book.

We want them to keep the book open.

Create your suspension with an arsenal of characters that ring true, dialog that sounds natural, and DETAILS that reflect reality and project it onto your story. If your details seem consistent within the world of the book, the reader will continue suspending their disbelief.

At the bookshop where I no longer work (sniff, I needed to make actual $), I’ve noticed that most people perusing the books start out cynical and get drawn in fast—or they close the book. I think they’re looking for a STORY they can accept–one that makes their mind explode with ideas. They want to be entertained or enlightened, not tortured.

The controversy? Some people think it’s up to the READER to suspend their disbelief. As authors we just offer up our “lies” and the reader who doesn’t believe them doesn’t have a good enough imagination. I say it’s a free country so they don’t have to read anything they don’t want to read. It’s our responsibility to write well enough that they WANT to read it.

So today, work on the details that can help your “lies” seem true. Even if you write fantasy, there are rules and realities within your created world. I’ll use my own very real-world example–my plumber mystery. Since I am not a plumber, I researched plumbing. I actually went on a ride-along with my local plumber. I picked up some used books on plumbing. I researched drain pipes. Glamorous. I need to know all about drains and water flow through sewer lines so I can write a realistic story about a plumber investigating a murder. If I don’t draw the picture realistically, nobody will read it. That’s okay for someone who just wants to dally in writing, but I want to be an author. So I’m wading through sewers of research.

You have to do the same. Choose three central elements of your story–YEAH I said THREE. Skim through your story and follow each element’s storyline. Are they real enough or do you need to do some research. Nothing will make your lies seem more real than wrapping them up in truth.

So GET ON THE DETAILS. Check your facts. Strengthen the reality of your book. What are you waiting for?


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