1. Den
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    Den Member

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    Suspension of disbelief in a complicated world

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Den, Jun 19, 2013.

    Hey, all

    I have a question about building a unique world, and perhaps about if there's a point where the building and concerns go too far. I'm very anxious about suspension of disbelief. I find that it can be a total pull-off when you read a sentence that really blasts you from your immersion because you realize, "What a stupid mistake. That's obviously not realistic."

    This wouldn't be so hard if you were copy-pasting a steampunk or medieval formula, but my goal with the setting of my story is to make something new. Something that does away with the generic elements of wizards, dung-filled streets and dragons, but keeps the swords and introduces plumbing / other forms of convenience.

    Why? I want a story more easily jumped into. Something that the reader need not leave this world for, but still capture other-worldly feelings. I want to tie together elements from different periods.

    But how does one do that without accidentally writing something someone will catch on to? If I define the world, for example, as not having the proper abilities to mass-produce paper, but mention later "Oh, and everybody gets the Sunday paper, easy," then I've made a mistake someone will cringe at. Obviously that's an amateur one I won't make, but I want to be careful. I want people to be immersed: I just don't know where to begin, and often times, if I'm unsure of how the modern world works, I'm unsure if my world can replicate that part of the modern world.

    And then there's the other question. Am I over thinking? Or just really ambitious?

    tl;dr

    1. How do I create an entirely new world with elements from medieval and modern without making terrible mistakes that break the suspension of disbelief (ie, mention that the world does not have the knowledge on how to mass-produce paper, but still manages to get a sunday paper out for nearly everyone).
    2. Am I being too anxious about SoD, or does my goal really require a lot of thought?
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You write it then get to work editing. Your story and setting interact, so write the story, things that don't work are then changeable.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    ^-- This.

    Trust in yourself not to make these mistakes as important plot points. You'll be thinking about those with sufficient depth that they shouldn't show up there. The scenery is eminently fixable at any point. ;)
     
  4. Rimuel
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    Rimuel Member

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    You're not being unrealistic; you're being inconsistent. No matter how unrealistic or ridiculous the laws of your world are, if they exist in your world, your story must abide by them. That's consistency.
     
  5. Den
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    Den Member

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    I don't think you understood the point. The idea is that, as another example, if I include something in my world that couldn't possibly be there (say something that could only be created with modern tech) and am unaware of that fact for whatever reason, it breaks suspension of disbelief.

    I'll think about this a little more, but thanks for the replies so far. :)
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The fact that you're already aware this might happen is good. That means you'll be less apt to write something that doesn't fit. However, you won't know for sure till you're done, have a look at it, let OTHERS have a look at it. People will be quick to point out ...hey, that doesn't fit. Then you can make changes.

    If you're writing fact-based fiction (historical) and you come across an anachronism, you need to get rid of it. However, if you're writing fantasy, you CAN include one. If it doesn't 'fit' you can make it fit, by finding a way to make it more believable. All part of the fun and sweat of writing fantasy fiction. Enjoy yourself, and don't worry too much. You've already identified the potential problem, so you'll probably avoid it.
     
  7. Rimuel
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    Rimuel Member

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    I wondered about your claim, so I googled "Suspension of disbelief", and then re-examined your opening post. Alright, I think I've got it now.

    You want to create a world that fuses elements of reality with your version of fantasy. You are afraid that all the effort you used to immerse your reader in your fantastical world would be laid to waste should you, for example, inadvertently introduce contradicting facts. You are not as concerned about the contradiction as you are about breaking the spell that is suspension of disbelief. The paradox you mentioned was simply one of many scenarios in which you may ruin it.

    In that case...I think you're over-thinking it. :) You have the luxury of editing the story indefinitely after its completion, so this is not a problem.
     
  8. CheckeredFoxglove
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    CheckeredFoxglove Member

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    I'm pretty sure you're overthinking this. Suspension of disbelief hinges a whole lot on how much people are enjoying the story; I mean, I'm reading a story I don't even like, with a premise I think is stupid and unconvincing, and I'm still suspending my disbelief re: the setting because I want to find out what happens. As long as your story is engaging, it takes a lot to throw a reader all the way out, and smaller jarring stuff will be caught by your betas. Your setting will develop around your story whether you've fleshed it out beforehand or not, and you seem to have a good sense of what your setting looks/feels like. Go write. You can wrangle it later.
     
  9. Abigail
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    Abigail Member

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    When working on stories, I've had issues where I am unsure if my story contradicts itself in parts and I am just not realizing it. It makes me anxious and I am quick to give up on it because it stresses me out. But at a point I have decided that I will review my work in the end, fix what needs to be fixed and go from there. I am not sure if this is anything like what you are talking about, but when you mentioned the newspaper example, where in one part of your story it mentions newspapers but in another it reveals that there is no way to mass produce newspapers in this time and place, it reminded me of my own struggles when writing stories in a world that I create.
     
  10. Michael Shaw
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    Michael Shaw Member

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    I love that you made this thread, Den; I was thinking of posting on this very same subject, myself.
    As it has already been stated, consistency is important. Immerse your mind in your own world, and ask yourself what would make sense in such a world.

    But now I get excited about this next part, because it is something I realized independently (though it has been done plenty of times before, I just never thought about it this way until recently). If you want suspension of disbelief to take full effect, use immediate immersion.

    I'm currently writing a novel in which there are people invisible to us that control the weather and the sea and nature. These powers are cast upon normal people that had normal lives, but instead of showing such lives and then introducing this new universe of flying and breathing water and controlling trees and the weather etc, I made the first scene a scene in which the protagonist is falling from the sky, and then lands onto a cloud. Yes, he lands on a cloud. This is obviously an extraordinary occurrence, and it will immediately set in the suspension of disbelief as the reader, even if subconsciously, will recognize "Okay, unnatural things can happen in this book," and start to accept that. That doesn't mean rush it, and of course this is just a suggestion, but hey, it might help keep your reader "in it."

    So, in your own story's universe, the universe in which there are swords but also modern conveniences (which I'm quite interested in, by the way), it might be a good idea to introduce these factors as soon as you can, so as to immediately immerse the reader into this new universe.

    It's like going to the pool. People try to gradually get used to the cold water, but that just makes you notice every part of yourself that gets cold as you go in. It's better to just jump in, you get all the cold at once, and then you're already used to it.

    Michael
     
  11. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    Editing would catch those mistakes. Keep a nifty notebook near, and as you re-read your work, write down anything that is a unique element to your world that you built. Then, go over THAT list with a fine tooth comb, checking for inconsistencies. If something violates it, or it seems out of whack, you can solve the problem.
     
  12. Rimuel
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    Rimuel Member

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    On the side topic of consistency, if there are discrepancies with external events, just make sure you explain all or most of them by the end of the book.
     
  13. Abigail
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    Abigail Member

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    I think maskedhero brought up a good idea with the notebook. I will keep that in mind as I begin my next project.
     
  14. B. anthracis
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    B. anthracis Member

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    One quick thing, they had hot and cold running water in Rome and other ancient cities. If you're worried about things technological, you might be surprised at a lot of things that people did have centuries ago. Also, there were other things ancient people could have had but simply didn't invent. Or something was invented but they somehow misapplied it or didn't apply it. For example, the Greeks invented a device that was incredibly similar to what would later become the steam engine, but they never figured out how to apply it and so the world went on sailing for another 2,000 years or so.

    Anyway, like everyone else said, if it doesn't work right off you can fix it in editing/revision. Good luck.
     
  15. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    How will we know you've blundered if it's something unique and new? (I must contest that though. You need human/oid protagonists to make the reader relate and that's the first thing that won't be new or unique about the world...) We don't know the rules unless you share them with us early on, but even then, I'm guessing we the readers would still raise our eyebrows here and there. Plus you can't bog down the plot by backstory and endless exposition, so it's probably inevitable some readers will go like "hrmph, sense, this makes none!"

    I guess the key thing is that you know the rules and remain consistent, and make your characters and the world around them abide to said rules.

    Also, you're writing fiction, so basically you can do whatever you like, and if the story is good, to many readers it won't matter if the vampires don't always sparkle when in direct sunlight even though they are supposed to according to the author's rules.
     
  16. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I said this in another thread and I think it applies here too. Get someone to workshop the piece with you. A fresh pair of reading eyes can help you with details that you might overlook as a writer because you're so immersed in your own world. I find it hard to believe that Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers can create huge intricate worlds and not make occasional mistakes. I always remember that scene in the movie Galaxy Quest when the hardcore fans try to ask the cast and writers about all the mistakes in the series. It's really funny and relevant, I think. Write your story and remember to be critical in your editing.
     

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