A Writer's Journey

May 14, 2012

Willing Suspension of Disbelief

Filed under: journey,writing — mackenziew @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

I love musicals. When my dad once commented that I should be a reviewer, a family friend said it was pointless because I liked everything I saw. (He was surprised when I declared Cabaret to be “meh” later on). Because I like them, I’m willing to accept that people will burst out into song and dance. Other people…not so much. Go to a board dedicated to the theater. You’ll see a story about either a friend or a person in the theater exclaiming “They’re going to sing in this?” at a Broadway musical.

So, why’s that? It’s regarding the willing suspension of disbelief. This allows me to accept that for the time of the musical, I am going to accept that people will burst out into song and dance in reality. Other people may not. It all goes to how willing we are to suspend our disbelief.

The same applies to reading. We all suspend disbelief, trusting the author. And I’m sure we’ve all reached a moment in a novel where we’ve had to stop, put the book down and say, “Really? I’m expected to swallow that?”

What happens after that? Well, there’s usually three things that happen. The first is that you continue reading, but you’re no longer in the story. You are aware that you reading words on a page. Eventually, you get back into the flow. The second is that you put the book down and walk away. After some time, you come back and re-enter the story. The third is that you put the book down and walk away for good.

There is one common denominator: You are no longer in the moment. The author has lost your trust in him/her to tell the story. And that’s important. As a writer, I don’t want to lose that trust.

Is it the reader’s fault? Not really. Is it the author’s? Not really.

There is no true fault. Sometimes, author’s make decisions that push boundaries. In the end, it’s up to the readers to decide if it works or not. And some decide that it does, some decide it doesn’t.

Here’s an example—which may contain a spoiler if you haven’t read the book. I’m reading “Dragonfly in Amber” by Diana Gabaldon. During the course of the story, Claire suffers a miscarriage. She is in the hospital suffering from a fever and no one can do anything for her. Until a shady friend of Claire’s shows up. He sneaks in as he is banned from the hospital. Ripping her hospital gown, he touches her breast. Nothing really sexual, he just holds it. He then moves down and fingers her. He gives her an orgasm and breaks her fever.

And I needed to put the book down. I could not believe we were to expect an orgasm could cure a fever. I even went to the internet to see if it was ever an old wives tale or accepted medical practice. After all, it is hinted the character may be from the future like Claire. And an orgasm was long considered the cure for “hysteria” in women. But I never found anything saying it was a cure for fever. And it makes no sense. You don’t want to raise the body temperature during a fever—and that’s what an orgasm does.

So my disbelief couldn’t be suspended any more. It was probably already strained as I recognized Claire’s miscarriage as nothing more but as a way to get drama and angst. So we may start to realize we are losing our trust. But we keep reading. Perhaps the author will do something that’ll break it completely or something that’ll restore it.

It’s interesting to see where it goes, if we let it.


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