Thursday, March 19, 2009

Suspension of Disbelief

In an online group we have been talking about the new show Castle. I’m recording it and enjoying it very much – although I might mention that my son (a Lt homicide detective) highly resents it when a mere writer knows better questions to ask than a seasoned investigator - >>>HUGE smile<<< He also gets aggravated when he sees how quickly CSI can get evidence from the lab and make a case.

I explained the principle of “suspension of disbelief” to him and told him the show was only an hour long and we couldn’t wait three months as he does to get DNA results back. To enjoy a story, ANY STORY, we have to be able to accept that the things they want us to accept in the story could conceivably happen. If we cannot accept the premise then we should not read the book or watch the movie or show.

I had a similar discussion on “The Shack” – I had a very negative reaction to the book in the opening chapters and might have quit reading but I wanted to understand why so many people felt it was a wonderful book of faith while others at the same time felt it to be sacrilegious. Once I read far enough I began to feel that the writer had a very clear insight of the Trinity and a way of presenting it so that someone of very little faith could understand. Great book. I also started to see that those who react badly often do so by giving up on the book at the point where I too was not reacting well to it. It is the same thing as above. To enjoy the book you have to be able to have the suspension of disbelief required. Talking to one person who reacted negatively they said God was not going to come down as depicted in the book, that in the old testament when he did come down at all he never allowed anyone to see his face. I said I agreed and very much doubted he was going to do it, but where the suspension of disbelief comes in I asked, “but do you believe he could do it if he wanted to?”

The answer for any believer of course is yes. God can do anything he wants to do. I’m sorry for those who were not able to accept this premise simply as a teaching tool to present the story and surely do not fault anyone whose faith is strong enough that they simply cannot accept the premise. But for those who realize that 1) it is fiction 2) that if you accept the premise just to allow the author to demonstrate the trinity in terms easy to understand and 3) that regardless what we think of the story the author has a very clear faith and religious belief and by no means wants to say anything negative about his or anyone else’s faith, the story then can be a delightful experience.

I do believe it is something we need to be careful about. We make this jump immediately as writers as soon as we accept the premise we will be writing on. For a reader, or for that matter editor or agent, to love the manuscript they have to be equally as willing to accept it. I read manuscripts, watch movies or TV, and all the time find myself saying “I don’t believe so and so could happen.” That’s a small example where a premise doesn’t work. If there are enough of them or if I just can’t buy the overall premise or the overall setting then the manuscript doesn’t work for me even though the author is committed to it and sees it clearly.

My wife tapes her favorite soap and I’m usually here when she plays it. Sometimes I watch. A major premise dedicated watchers have to accept in these seems to be the premise of time. You can go months and have no time pass at all then from one day to the next some children in the series are years older. A character can be at home and say he’s going to the office then seconds later walks in down there on two characters doing something. I know a lot of people who would love to have a commute like that. I figure it’s a teleporter. But watchers accept the premise and have no problem with it.

This is a place where crit groups can be very helpful. Like I say, we accept the premise because we’re writing it that way so it isn’t obvious to us, but can others accept it that way or are we putting King Kong in a rowboat? If readers don’t make the suspension of disbelief and accept the premise, then the story doesn’t work for them.

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