Friday, June 14, 2013

Suspension of disbelief

Happiest of Fridays, everyone!

Suspension of disbelief is a funny thing, especially in speculative fiction. You can make your readers believe in space travel, or ghosts, or all manner of magical powers, so long as you keep all your worldbuilding consistent and unexplained. But it's usually not the otherworldly things that can throw a person right out of the story.

Maybe your reader is from Boston, and your Massachusetts-set story refers to the subway system as the 'Metro.' (And you shouldn't do that, because I just clutched my heart in agony at the very thought.) Maybe your reader is pursuing their Masters in biochemistry, and the science in your book isn't quite working for them. It doesn't even have to be the reader's specialty. Sometimes it's just one of those tropes that rubs the reader the wrong way.

For me personally? My pet peeve is when writers fail to keep their characters' injuries consistent. I sometimes feel like I can hardly pick up a book or watch a TV show without a character talking perfectly clearly after they've just been throttled, or blithely walking around and bantering and fighting crime with a head injury or 'a few cracked ribs.' Not because I'm a sadist - hopefully not, anyway. But when the character can just glide through setbacks without even missing a step, it drains the stakes from the narrative for me. It's hard to get invested in a character when it seems they're going to achieve their goals without any problems.

(And I have a hard time understanding why any writer would pass up a chance to make their character suffer some more... which does sound a little sadistic, now that I type it out.)

Though the phrase "write what you know" is the one that gets bandied about in various creative writing classes, I don't agree with that - those would make for very boring books most of the time. But it's very important to know what you write, down to the smallest details. A throwaway line for one writer could be about something the reader knows back and front - and when a reader loses the thread of the story, sometimes it can be tricky to find it again.

What breaks your suspension of disbelief?


  1. My agent totally called me out on the injury thing. I had to go in and add more reactions to her getting hurt.

  2. " My pet peeve is when writers fail to keep their characters' injuries consistent. " - And just like that... you are my hero. Can we PLEASE talk about how horrible this is in action films - so please don't take lessons from them when writing novels, lol.

    And AGREE with your entire stance on knowing what you write vs writing what you know!

    1. BAHAHAHA, YES. Any time a doctor tells the protagonist "Well you've got a couple cracked ribs but you're going to be okay" and then that's the last we hear of it? I start throwing shoes at the screen. The character should be in too much pain to walk/breathe properly, let alone nonchalantly save the day.

    2. I have cracked ribs that never healed right and they still hurt! But I have to say it makes me wonder if that's one reason why writing vampire stories became so popular--instantaneous healing!

    3. The cracked rib dealie seems to happen more than it should, come to think of it. Especially when the MC then sneaks out of the hospital because they know someone's in pursuit. Like just getting out of the bed should cripple them. And then the antagonist catches up to them and kills them easily while they're incapacitated aaaaand the end. You're welcome.

  3. Angelica, you are SO right! Creatures with instantaneous healing are pretty popular in fantasy/paranormal lit... less inconvenience, perhaps?


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