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Friday, October 22, 2010

Willing suspension of disbelief by Barbara Fleming

Willing suspension of disbelief is a contract between the writer and the reader, in a way. The writer takes you somewhere else, into other lives and other places, and the reader agrees to go along for the ride, to accept the reality that I and other writers create for you on the pages of a book.
Both of us know the characters we offer you are not real-life individuals. For me, as for most writers, I expect, they are an amalgam of people I have known, have observed, probably have admired or disliked. Part of these characters is of course the author herself, stemming from the subconscious and from life experiences, but part of them is imaginary, born of the creative impulse. Writer and reader both understand that.
Yet the reader who becomes absorbed in the book finds the characters and the events real enough to set aside the little voice in the head that says, "This is just a story," and accept what the book has to give, be it romance, adventure, drama or mystery, or maybe a combination thereof. Good books create a world that the reader enters eagerly and leaves reluctantly. Over my lifetime I've read thousands of books, and from among them emerge characters whose words or deeds have stayed with me and who become part of my frame of reference. To me they are real because they resonate so profoundly with life as I have known and observed it. Surely that happens with most devoted readers of fiction.
What is it that allows this suspension of disbelief, this agreement between writer and reader that makes a story work? It must be, to some extent, an earnest desire on the reader's part to be taken into those lives, that other place. It must be, also, the writer's craft, her ability to fashion a believable world. It must be, too, something mysterious and indefinable that has been at work in fiction for centuries. Perhaps we cannot fully understand or define it.
But we know that it has to happen if fiction is to work. Books that I abandon, having begun them hopefully, are ones that fail to pull me in so that I do not suspend disbelief. Books that I stay with are ones that allow me to put my real world aside and enter this fictional one, eager to find out what happens next, meeting people I come to care about.
Whatever this phenomenon is, however we characterize it, it is the magic of which fiction is made. Profound thanks to all those readers who enter the world of books time and time again and willingly suspend their disbelief.

4 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Barbara,

You're very right; good writers make us suspend disbelief. Stephen King, for example, creates real, fully dimensional characters that we can care about. So when he introduces
speculative elements it's easy to suspend disbelief. His world has verisimilitude--up to a point.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Barbara: Lovely post here. I agree with everything you said. At a recent meeting of one of the book clubs I belong to, they were discussing a book. After talking about the characters and plot, a lot of the comments were that they found so-and-so hard to believe, or they didn't think this (certain) scene would really have happened. Then the facilitator asked if they would recommend it and they said no, even though they thought the setting and plot were interesting. So the post was timely, for me. I remember being amazed at how Gabrial Marquez could make me suspend disbelief with his stories, but he was a master at Magical Realism, and few are. Thanks for sharing.

Rebbie Macintyre said...

Such an important issue, and like Joyce, a timely one for me as I'm finishing my current manuscript. Thanks for the post!

Barbara Fleming said...

Thanks to those who commented on my October post. The craft of writing gives us much to think about and pay attention to as we create a fictional world for readers, and I see this aspect as very important to successful fiction.