1. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Suspending Disbelief in Fiction

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Reggie, Jan 4, 2012.

    Does anyone know how can an author go about suspending disbelief when he/she writes fiction? A person can write countless stories and his/her readers may find that the story makes no sense. A story is fiction, right? If Santa Clause is not real, then how can an author convince them that he is real, even though the audience knows that he is fiction? On the other hand, how can we say that Satan can land on Earth in fiction, even though he cannot do so in reality? Can we write a story about a flying refrigerator that gives food to the poor and finding local grocery stores to replenish itself when it runs out of food and still have the audience suspending his or her disbelief? Would that be the point of fiction? I’m just curious; anyone have any thoughts about this?
     
  2. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    One way of suspending disbelief is rooting the story in reality, by adding details from real life.
     
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  3. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    Interesting question.
    Your post made me think of Hollywood straight away.
    Most of their fictional/scienc fiction movies are all made up to suspend belief for example Superman( a man that flys) or the famous ET movie.
    I can think of books where this is also done like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for example. or famous poems like the Divine Comedy
    I don't think you would have problems getting people into that frame of mind of 'suspending beliefs'.
    There are people who still believe in magic, just think of the magicians for example.
    Another writer who does it well is Terry Pratchett and even Fairy Tales books and the one that comes to mind now is Shrek.
     
  4. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    When a reader picks up a fiction book to read they want to believe into the make-believe world. As long as the world you write doesn't have loop holes (things that contradict each other) then the reader will believe. Unless of course they are like my guy who picks apart fiction for fun but most readers freely sign up to believe until proven that they shouldn't, meaning you have loop holes.
     
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  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'm assuming you meant 'plot holes'... look up 'loop holes' to see why it's not applicable here...
     
  6. spamalope01
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    spamalope01 Member

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    Most everyone who has posted have pretty much summed it up. I don't think you have to do anything specific in your writing to force the reader to suspend their disbelief....unless you're writing non-fiction, your book is automatically something that a reader must suspend disbelief in order to get into and enjoy. It's kind of the price of admission....you're writing about werewolves....the reader knows they have to believe that for the duration of that book, werewolves exist.

    Make sure your writing is clean and doesn't contradict, that the plot is logical (without taking away from being fantastical). It doesn't require you to always set it in reality....that doesn't work if your plot is about another world, a fantasy land....but even those worlds have to have rules that you'll have to follow. If things start getting way out of hand, you'll lose your reader in a heartbeat. Think of it like when boys play army. One kid shouts "Bang Bang! I got you, Kenny!" Kenny on the other hand emphatically denies he's been shot...he may even go so far as to insist he all of a sudden had an invisible bullet proof shield. Then when the first kid says that he used special armor piercing bullets, Kenny says that his shield was built to withstand even those....

    If your story - whether set in our world and "reality" or in a made up world and its reality - starts to have sudden leaps like that, then readers won't suspend disbelief. If Kenny's going to have that magical shield, you had better have shown him getting it a few chapters earlier....or show someone else with it and plant that seed that it's believable that Kenny could end up with it at that crucial moment.

    Make sense?
     
  7. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I think "suspending belief" is fine if you explain what is happening and that explanation makes sense.

    There are certain small things. I remember watching the movie Eddie. For those of you who don't remember (it wasn't THAT great of a movie), it was the story where Whoopi Goldberg ends up coaching the bad Knicks team, but the whole thing was really a ploy to sell the team and move them somewhere else. You actually suspend belief twice with that plot description. First the idea that some fan can come in with no experience and coach a professional NBA team to the playoffs is kind of a long shot. But also the bigger thing is that no one would ever be stupid enough to move a team out of New York because of how big the market is.
     
  8. Immy
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    I agree with all the above :) I also find that you can make impossible things seem impossible by details (just little things, like memories or unusual traits). Details make the reader think and before they know it, it becomes real to them.

    Like in Kelley Armstrong's fantasy novels, she makes the reader believe that the supernatural live amongst our human world by making it realistic and detailed. For example: I had been a werewolf for three days and I still hadn't changed back - compared with: I had been patrolling these dark alleys in wolf form for three days now, and honestly? I was getting pretty sick of it. Staying in the darkness had been my only option, because in the daylight I would be mistaken for a giant husky and be dragged off to the pound by some dog catcher. Besides, I was kind of hoping that the dark might trigger me back to my human form. It was a hard life.
     
  9. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    The most important things I find when dealing with fiction are assumptions and consistency.

    Your opening line/paragraph/chapter sets the tone/content/direction of your story, so anything stated in those words are taken as canon for the rest of the narrative. Therefore it's important to ensure that everything you write in the beginning is consistent with how you want the story to progress.

    Examples:

    George R R Martin's Game of Thrones:
    Set in the age of Kingdoms, swords, knights and political intrigue. Blunt and visceral, people are cynical and you don't have elves prancing about in the trees. Mythical beings are typically relegated to children's stories. They exist, they're dangerous, but anyone who knows is already dead. The scarcity of the fantastical is maintained through the entire series, slowly building in magnitude as the stakes rise. Magic is rarely resorted to, mistrusted by many and most simply employ martial means of combat. The different houses vary in size and influence, but their survival and domination is an ongoing theme throughout the entire story. The nature of each house is also important: Both how it's perceived and what it actually is, which is alluded to in the first chapter.

    Philip Pulman's Northern Lights:
    People are accompanied by projections of their emotional state: Talking animals called daemons. Lyra Bellaqua is a willful tomboyish girl prone to getting into mischief and in over her head. Powerful people are involved in Eldridge meddlings and an ambitious man is rocking the boat, much to their dismay. Every single supernatural element (with the exception of witches) is alluded to in the first chapter: Daemons, the Panserbjorne (talking bears), Dust (manifest consciousness) and the nature of Innocence (with regards to Original Sin). The technology (steampunk) and cultural setting (wealthy European) are established by the presence of gas lamps and decanters of tokay.

    Terry Pratchett's The Truth
    Stock-standard fantasy races (dwarves and elves) exist and are somewhat pedestrian. City life is hazardous to one's wallet and health. Everyone's out for themselves, few people are stupid or naive and the most powerful are those with information and control. Truly fantastical feats are unlikely, but rumours are readily believed. The existence of fantasy races is a central point to the themes of racism in this book and the city's inherently dangerous, combustible nature is emphasised by the number of groups that readily use physical violence and the frequency with which things catch fire. The Great Event is centred around a politically motivated scheme bankrolled by wealthy racists and the story follows a journalist trying to outpace the lies, hired thugs and crossbow bolts chasing him.


    Establishing the core truths early in the story are just as important as maintaining them as it continues. Avoid inventing systems later on and changing how things work at a moment's notice: As soon as things cease to make sense in their own universe, you've screwed up.
     
  10. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    Yeah, that's what I meant. Thanks.
     
  11. J.W.Exeter
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    J.W.Exeter Member

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    Well, that's a huge relief. I always assumed I shouldn't spend too much time explaining my worlds right in the beginning of the story, while simultaneously still DOING it. My question now is: How much is too much? How many paragraphs should I dedicate in the intro to explaining why my world is different? I still feel like I have too many, but most of it just seems so necessary.
     
  12. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    You can go into an infodump at the start of the story as long as it isn't too long or instrusive, but it's not necessary to do so. Just drop hints and they'll figure it out. For example in one story of mine, the protagonist is a vampire. I don't open with an infodump about vampire - in fact the word 'vampire' isn't said until around the 2nd chapter. Instead, I open with my character awakening at sunset, then drinking some bottled blood, and in the next scene she's mentioning that she's older than she looks and thinking to herself 'that's more true than that person would believe'. It's pretty obvious to anyone reading this that the protagonist is a vampire, and that most people are unaware of this.

    Incidentally, the philosophy literature talks about 'imaginative resistance' which is the idea that in a story, people will accept things like the existence of vampires, but won't accept thing like that murdering a guest is morally acceptable (barring serious provocation, of course). Or that 2 + 2 doesn't equal 4 in that story. Some articles about this topic:

    http://dingo.sbs.arizona.edu/~snichols/Papers/imaginingandbelieving.pdf

    http://users.ox.ac.uk/~sfop0174/imaginative%20resistance.pdf

    http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/776/1/Imaginability,_Morality,_and_Fictional_Truth.pdf

    http://dingo.sbs.arizona.edu/~snichols/Papers/modalpsychology.pdf
     
  13. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    Having people belief in your world and spending time explaining it are too different things.
    I am a firm believer in not spending your time explaining things up front. Let the reader dive in and assume they already know how to swim. If you can start a story without any or barely any explaination you can really really pull the reader in.
     
  14. joanna
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    joanna Active Member

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    I agree that internal consistency is key.

    In order to ease the reader into a new world while maintaining their suspension of disbelief, state things as they are from the start; you can be subtle. You don't have to have anything lengthy or an info-dump, just make it clear from the outset that this is a world where magic can happen, where a demon might pop out from behind the refrigerator, whatever. I don't need to read all about the realistic explanations for the existence of vampires right off. But I also don't want to read a chapter or several of what seems like a real-life story only to have a vampire kill one of the characters all of a sudden. I just got done with 'Salem's Lot, and Stephen King sets up the world of vampires by having a prologue about how two of the characters left the town because strange and terrifying things started happening there.
     
  15. forgotmypen
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    I couldn't read this without thinking of a movie I saw recently about a tire with telekinetic abilities. It was a surprisingly likable movie.

    Anyways, the key is being honest with your characters, and your story. If your honest (particularly if you have honest characters), then you'll be able to get your readers to believe anything. Just make sure you establish your world, and the characters in it before you get too strange.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Few to none, IMO. It would be ideal if you didn't have to explain anything at all, and instead just charged right into the world. Random examples:

    - Instead of explaining to the reader that there's been a famine this year, you show a desperate character poaching rabbits to feed his family.

    - Instead of explaining that horses are rare and valuable in your world, you show a pack of village children running to stare awestruck at one.

    - Instead of explaining that your world has a strong social hierarchy, you show a conversation between two people of very different social position.

    Now, it may not be possible to avoid _all_ world summary, but as much information as possible should be communicated with action or character thoughts or a narrator _inside_ the world, rather than the author speaking above the story to the reader. As soon as you even acknowledge the existence of the real world, and explain the differences between that world and your fictional world, you're breaking suspension of disbelief. (Unless, of course, both worlds exist in your story, as in, say, _The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe_, where characters travel between the real world to the fantasy world.)

    ChickenFreak
     
  17. Phantom_Of3
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    A little bit like what forgotmypen said, I concede that realistic characters make a story believable. True, rooting your story in reality doesn't hurt, but making your character believable is the most important thing you can do, for if your character is realistic, then the reader can identify with them, and psychologically will be more likely to believe whatever happens to that character. Also, if something is totally unbelievable (i.e. a flying refrigerator) then go deep into your description of the flying refrigerator. Using these simple techniques, people are far more likely to believe the unbelievable.
     
  18. tcol4417
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    Chickenfreak and AmyHolt have the right of it.

    There's an enormous difference between describing your world and illuminating it (for lack of a better word).

    Example:
    The city is ye olde English and filled with urchin gangs that try to rob the wealthy merchants who are understandably upset.
    versus
    MC's head turned as an angry shout echoed down the cobbled street. A filthy, rag-bound figure darted past him followed shortly by a bellowing, pink-faced merchant.

    As long as you're clear on the distinction, feel free to spend as long as you want writing the world as long as you aren't putting the story on hold to do so. Nobody wants the movie paused at regular intervals so you can jump on-screen and explain what's going on.
     
  19. Felipe
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    Felipe Active Member

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    see below
     
  20. Felipe
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    Felipe Active Member

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    How about suspending disbelief in reality?



    [​IMG]
     
  21. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    There is so much wrong with that article I don't even know where to begin.
     
  22. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    Haha. Someone should hit the reporter over the head with a 2x4 for reporting something so supid, assuming the article is even real.
     
  23. kablooblab
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    kablooblab Member

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    Whoever wrote the bible can do it so can you.
     
  24. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    By setting up the rules of the universe. But not everyone is good at suspending disbelief, so they don't like fantasy.
     
  25. mrdan987
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    :) Your kids playing example made me smile, was very much me at a young age!

    I completely agree with your point. Reading fiction automatically requires a certain level of suspending belief, depending on the genre. You just need to make sure you keep your 'world' consistent, with it's own set of rules and things don't just happen that contradict the established 'rules' merely because it needs to. This applies to the characters as well - you need to ensure that their personalities are consistent, and everytime you have somebody in your story do something that furthers the plot, you need to stop and make sure that it really makes sense for the character to carry out the act that leads from A to B.

    It's such inconsistencies with your story's internal logic and characterisation that breaks the suspension of disbelief, not the mere inclusion of things that are bit out of this world.

    In terms of explaining your fantastical world to the reader, as others have said it's far better to show than tell in my opinion. The fantasy story I'm working on involves a magical young man in our real world, with the initial conflict centring around his girlfriend discovering his secret. That way, exposition will gradually be included as part of the actual narrative.
     

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