Reasonable Suspension of Disbelief

Posted by on Nov 25, 2015 in Writing | 0 comments

I know I’ve touched on this subject before, however, I feel I must revisit it. I was half-listening to two different movies “based on a true story”. The first was so ridiculous I had to turn it off. There was absolutely no way it could have been based on a true story. Real people don’t act like, don’t dress like, don’t talk like any of the actors in that movie (and no, I’m not naming the movie). If there was something that was true in the movie, it wasn’t readily apparent, and the ridiculousness of it had me rolling my eyes. I couldn’t even find it really funny.

The second movie was put together better. They interviewed real people, not necessarily credible people, but eye-witnesses at least. They included footage of the events, voice recordings, etc. I had to laugh through part of it because the people being interviewed were over-the-top, and weren’t using safety precautions when on site at some old, run down places that could have had anything from lead to asbestos to mold.

Here’s the thing: Even though both movies were over-the-top, the second one made me want to look up the facts about the case they were talking about. It made me curious as to the real story behind the “based on a true story”. The first movie? Not so much. Once again, this calls reasonable suspension of disbelief into play. The first movie seemed to be some college kid’s puerile fantasies of what he thought college women do when there are a bunch of them together without more responsible adults around. The acting was amateur at best, and I could see nothing in the movie that would have been based in fact. It didn’t take long, in fact, for me to turn it off.

Reasonable suspension of disbelief will either have a reader putting your book down or continuing to read. Readers are smart. They understand the physical world, they enjoy something that challenges them, makes them think outside the box. However, there is a fine line between out of the box and unbelievable, and if you as the writer, cross it, your readers will stop reading. You’ve lost them.

What does this mean to a writer? This means that if you are writing a story on Earth, whether past, present, or future, the physics of this world don’t change. We have gravity, solids, liquids, gasses, etc. If the main character is moving through any of these at super speed, we need to know why, sometimes even how. If you are writing about another planet, the physics of that world have to be set at the beginning and cannot be changed unless there is a good explanation…and it needs to be a reasonable explanation if it changes as well. Basically, once you have your world plotted out, stick to the physics of that world and don’t change it unless it is a pivotal plot point and you already have the how and the why plotted out too. One last thing about basing a book on Earth: please, please, look up the area, the history, and any facts pertaining to the setting of the book. Nothing will turn an avid reader off more than incorrect information in the story that is presented as fact, especially when the book is based on Earth’s history, facts, and locations.

Characters are the other component we need to talk about when going over reasonable suspension of disbelief. If your characters aren’t real, your readers won’t read them. Comics are great for showing character development. Most of it is dialogue and action, but you understand them, you feel their pain and triumph. Every superhero and villain has a flaw, whether it’s a physical flaw or a mental flaw. Every major character is well developed and thought out. People have talked about comic book characters for decades. People don’t talk about unrelatable characters. They put books that have weak and inconsistent characters down.

So, how do you make all this “real”? Read your favorite authors. Sit on a bench in the park and just watch people. talk to your friends. Ask opinions. Ask the “what if” questions. Read about history, learn about the area you’re writing about. Read psychology books. In short, do your homework, then write, write, and write some more. Reread your work, get it edited for consistency, and write some more.

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