Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I don't believe it!

I want to talk about suspension of disbelief.  We all know that in our writing, especially in fiction, we need to push the limits of what could really happen in order to tell a compelling story.  This is also necessary so that we can ensure that our readers know what is needful to follow the story.

This requires a sometimes significant suspension of disbelief on the part of our readers.  We have to convince them to say, "I'll buy that."  It's a tough balance to strike.

Take last night's episode of Castle as an example.  (I know I use the show a lot, but I do watch it pretty close to when I write up Tuesday's blog posts.)  The show started out with a murder that eventually (spoiler warning) led to our intrepid group of detectives re-opening a decade-old murder.  In the course of the new investigation, and the investigations into the two present-day murders, they begin to interview people connected to that original murder.

They start asking these characters for their alibi from a night 10 years in the past.  And the characters can give alibis that are capable of being corroborated.  Everyone sure has an amazing memory in the world of this show, don't you think?

While watching the show, my mom asks me, "What were you doing ten years ago?"

My answer, "You could have been in Boston."

Except, that whole ordeal was a 11 years ago.  Sigh.  I guess we should all just live in the fictional world where everyone remembers everyone and has perfect recall of every minute of their lives.

What's my point in all this?  We have to watch ourselves and watch where the limits are.  I'm not saying that those lines can't successfully be crossed, but when you cross them you risk losing your readers' suspension of disbelief.  Suddenly, they're pulled out of the story and repeat to themselves, "That would never happen."

Q4U: What were you doing 10 years ago?  For those of you who journal regularly, try to think it up on your own, then go check the journal and see how memory compares.  Do you struggle with suspension of disbelief in the plot twists you throw at your readers?

I won't be around much today.  I've lots to do before work starts.  I'll swing back through tonight, though.  Have a great day everyone!


  1. I know I've been talking about The Fire In Fiction all week, but there is a whole chapter in this book about this very topic. We have to make the unbelievable believable.

  2. Great topic, Stephanie! I love murder mysteries and the suspects always do seem to have a perfect memory, even down to remembering exactly what the people around them said. Ten years ago, I was in high school... and that's all I remember. Probably being awkward. I'll have to check my old diaries tonight.

  3. This is a very good point; especially when it comes to crafting impossible scenes in our stories.

    Ten years ago I was in high school ... most likely daydreaming about my latest story instead of focusing on class.

  4. Great post!
    Umm 10 years ago I had a breakdown (childhood caught up with me). The positive is that my writing and poetry came out of the closet, thanks to a brilliant husband and counsellor.
    I am trying to put a few twists in my wip, but sometimes they need removing, asap.

  5. Susan, very true. It's the balance we have to find that's key. And bringing emotion to the forefront will make the unbelievable turn believable.

    Julie, thanks! Let me know what you find out. Ten years ago I was in 9th grade. I didn't keep regular journals until high school though.

    Matthew, thanks!

    Glynis, thanks! Hope things are better for you now. Sorry to drudge up something that's maybe painful.

  6. I don't know if you've given any thought to it, but Walt Disney was very good at this. He called it plausibility. I think that's what we are really sometimes trying to do; make the improbable believable, don't you? Awesome topic!
    ~ Just Joany/Yaya


  7. This is a great point. I've been reading YA fantasy lately and I have to be honest, I have a hard time believing some of what they write. I'm not sure if it's a trend in just that genre, but some of the plot twists are just so unreasonable- they seem like the author didn't know a way out of their made-up world they'd created so they just made something even more outlandish up.

    I can buy into a lot- vampires and werewolves and other stuff, but stick to the rules you've created or your audience is going to groan. And leave.

  8. Yaya, welcome to the blog! Thanks for stopping by!

    Stephanie, very excellent point. Stick to the rules you establish and you'll be halfway through the battle.

  9. Great point!

    There is a thin line in fiction.

    My memory is the worst, so naturally my characters suffer the same aliment. Ten years ago I was giving birth to my first child and suffering in a terrible relationship. *Sigh*

    Look where the Lord has brought me! Halleujah!

  10. Hmm, ten years ago, I was in college and had just met my hubby. Good times.

    And I think you definitely have to sell an idea in a book, not just expect people to believe it. I hate when a book makes me groan because the character makes some decision that I totally don't buy.

  11. Thanks, Tamika. Sorry to drudge up unpleasant memories.

    Roni, agreed.


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