Saturday, September 4, 2010

Suspending Disbelief

While all types of fiction require that the author make their works believable, science fiction and fantasy share the need to actively suspend disbelief. Because of the very nature of these genres, failure to meet this lofty goal can result in unpleasant consequences. The worst of these being that the person reading your work is disappointed or dislikes your book.

If you are interested in selling your book to a publisher make note of this. If you cannot suspend disbelief for the average reader, potential agents and publishing houses are going to send you a rejection. If you are fortunate it will be a form rejection.

When I write a novel I try to focus on several things:

1: Making my storyline feasible within the rules of my world and society.
2: Make my characters as ‘real’ of people as I can.
3: I try to steal my character’s shoes.

But what does this mean?

1: Making my storyline feasible within the rules of my world and society.
Whenever I write a novel I set rules on the societies, the functions of magic or the processes of science that will take place. My science fiction piece has a planet with two suns. It is questionable, at the very best, that such a planet can exist.
In order to suspend disbelief I found one simple solution: the planet cannot exist for a long period of time.

In a golden cradle situation, where the planet is trapped just at the brink of the two battling suns, my characters fight for their survival by seeking a way to get away from their planet. Before either one of the suns exert dominance over the globe and it is destroyed out of that golden cradle zone where life can exist.
Weather patterns change as the planet is pulled towards the more dominant sun, and the sun that is being overwhelmed is being pulled with it. The one sun is dying a slow death, and the other will be consumed in the last moments of its sister’s destruction.

Especially as the villain accelerates the process.

By admitting how infeasible the concept is, it is possible for the reader to temporarily suspend disbelief and accept that this situation could – in the light of advanced science – be feasible.

In science fiction, suspending disbelief is even more important. A reader approaching a fantasy book wants to explore new worlds where things that cannot happen do happen. Science fiction fans want to imagine that something might – somehow – happen and want to see just how the author believes it can be so. Obviously there are some genres of science fiction that share the easily suspended belief of a fantasy book, but there are more genres that require a steady foundation and reasonable suspensions of belief.

2: Make my characters as ‘real’ of people as I can.

When I read a book, I want a character I can relate to on some level or another. Because of this, I try to make my characters as real as possible. I believe this is a key part of writing a good book. This is just my opinion, however.

Finally, 3: I try to steal my character’s shoes.

What the…?

I’m sure the shoes of these poor characters are not that comfortable. In fact, I like reading about characters that have to struggle and fail before they succeed. However, there is one thing I remind myself when I think of my characters’ shoes. If I am going to steal their shoes to walk around with, I want to be as far away from them as possible when they find out. This way, I have their shoes and I am really far away from them when they try to kick my butt.

No matter how you look at it, it often becomes a notable point that characters in science fiction and fantasy novels are really, really made of awesome sauce and could kick my butt in a street fight. I mean, really. Would you want to be caught with the shoes of a character that can shoot lightning beams out of their…
I’m sure you get the idea.

Writing is not an art where you can write about characters without leaving some sort of trace of yourself in them. It happens whether or not you are aware of it. This is due to the simple fact that when you write, you are drawing on your own skills, your own experiences and your own perceptions of how a society should be within your world. Some writers ‘get into the heads of their characters’ while others state they do not.

In either case you will often leave something of yourself behind. It is this link that will allow your reader to see glimmers of things that they can relate to with your characters. It is also this relation that will help you suspend disbelief.
I am not suggesting that you make every character a cookie cutter form of yourself. However, you need to somehow ensure that there is enough of a ‘human’ side to your characters – especially the protagonists – which they can believe in what these characters are doing.

The further outside of the realms of normality you stray the more important that this becomes.

Read your own writing and ask yourself one little question: If I had not been the one to write this, would I believe it?

Sometimes looking over your own works with a grain of salt and a lot of scepticism can help.

Good luck, writer. This is a long and difficult journey.

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