Thursday, January 23, 2014

The WILLING SUSPENSION of UNBELIEF

Why would we want to do that?

As readers we want to believe what we're reading is true, don't we?  Of course, but that's only when we read nonfiction.

When we read fictional novels, we actually do something interesting, often as an automatic response. 

We know the story is not true, even though it may contain many facts. But here is where we actually choose to set aside that part of us that doesn't believe a word of what we're reading and accept what the author has written ... all of it.

Yes, we deliberately suspend our unbelief. 

Now here is where the onus is on the author to convince you to believe and thus accept the plot and the reality of the characters.  

It's a big job. Authors are expected to do thorough research to make the whole story resonate with his or her readers. And when they don't, we get disgusted and lose interest. Yet when an author is also an avid reader it becomes difficult to simply read for enjoyment and set aside their critical eye. But should they?

I don't believe so. We can all learn from each other. We can appreciate the author's skill, but we can also see where they may have slipped up here and there on certain "rules" we believe they should have followed. Here is where we must use caution. As we all know rules are helpful in just about every case. Yet there are times when they can also be cumbersome. I personally love it when an editor points out mistakes, ( and I've made enough of them!) or suggests other ways to write in order to strengthen the storyline or double check facts.

And don't fall into the trap of thinking "that couldn't  have happened" or "they wouldn't act that way". Dan Walsh's book, The Deepest Waters is a case in point. Many of our Australian authors incorporate things that have happened to them into their stories, even if it might seem far fetched.

Real life truth can be far stranger than fiction. And people do not always act the way we expect them to. There are many underlying reasons for this. We don't always know why we sometimes say or do things we wouldn't ordinarily do or say! So why should our characters be any different?

Ah, it all makes for great reading doesn't it? Let's remember that with the next book you read. (I mentioned Dan's book because I admit I thought he was stretching my suspension of unbelief a bit thin. How wrong was I?)

I wonder how many of us read books with our mental editor at work or whether we can switch off and enjoy. 
 
Rita and her husband co-present the Christian radio program Vantage Point, broadcast on FM stations around Australia. She had two historical romances published  and her novel, Signed Sealed Delivered, can be found on Amazon Kindle. Books II & III of her trilogy are still in the pipeline.

14 comments:

  1. I agree Rita, it is hard as a writer to switch that internal editor off. I've had to pull back a bit - especially when applying current writing "rules" to books written 10, 20, 30 years ago. And it is often true that life can be stranger than fiction. In the end, I find a good story written adequately is better than a bad story written in exquisite and up-to-date prose.

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    1. So true Jeanette. Some publishers have even admitted some of those great books wouldn't have been accepted by today's standards. But like they say, the story's the thing.

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  2. Thanks Rita. That was a thought-provoking post. I think authors need to be true to the world they've created, but I'm happy to suspend belief if the story is working. Sometimes it might come down to people's tastes. I know a few people who didn't like the recent Dr Who season finale because it stretched belief a bit too much and broke some of the rules established in the genre. But I was happy to suspend belief and just go with the flow even if I didn't understand all of it. I could appreciate the poignant moments, whereas the plot lost some other viewers. I guess it's sometimes an interesting line to walk. Thanks for your post.

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  3. Oh Nola, movies can get away with murder! Well not literally, but seeing the action tends to make us believe because things happen so quickly. Whereas a reader has time to go at a slower pace and think through a few things.

    Hah, I can't comment on your updated Dr Who as I remember the old series and being apprehensive about those terrible Daleks with their awful voices.

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    1. Very true Rita. Movies are a much more immediate medium. The Daleks still have terrible voices, but the effects are much better these days :)

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  4. Great post Rita. I'm currently reworking my current manuscript after a beta reader pointed out something they struggled to believe. The trouble is pulling one bit apart means changing other threads so it doesn't all fall apart Oh well, better get back to it.

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    1. Oh, I well know the feeling, Dale. One good thing is this...it s-t-r-e-c-h-e-s us!

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    2. Rats, I can't spell. I mean stretches!

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  5. The willing suspension of unbelief... those words captured my imagination. I have never really thought about this process, but now I can even see a parallel to the process of willingly suspending doubt - even rejecting proof - when wanting to hang on to a particular belief; a very interesting process in everyday life. Your post sparked my grey matter connections, Rita. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks Margaret. Like Agatha Christie's quaint detective Hercule Poirot says, 'we must let the little grey cells do their work'.

      Writing like other work can be very tedious, exciting, maddening and hopefully, in the end worthy of being read.

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  6. Rita,

    Delighted to hear how my novel stretched your suspension of unbelief. The story had the same affect on me when I first heard about it on The History Channel. I was so amazed by it, I instantly thought: "Someone had to have a written a book about this." The only think I found was a single non-fiction book that had been out of print several years. So I made it the focus of my next novel.

    Even after I finished it, I gave it to some test readers and one said they loved it, except a few of the parts that seemed totally unrealistic. Turns out, those were the parts that were FACT not fiction. That's why I decided to include the Fact vs Fiction note at the end of the book.

    Thanks again for the note. If anyone wants to contact me, don't click on the link by my name. The Google link is no longer active. You can check out my website at danwalshbooks.com or email me at dwalsh@danwalshbooks.com.

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    1. Yes, Dan that is exactly what I thought. But I loved the way you made your characters come alive. I could visualize them and that's always an important part of enjoying the story.

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  7. I've read a few novels where the most far-fetched part of the plot was the part actually based on truth, so I appreciate an explanatory note at the end (or even at the beginning, if that's not going to spoil the surprise).

    As an example, I remember reading Bridge to Terabithia as a child and being upset by the ending. I was looking the book up on Wikipedia yesterday, and found the novel was inspired by a real-life event—that was the part I didn't like.

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    1. Oh, I'm like that, Iola. It seems we all crave a happy ending, or at least for something to be resolved in a satisfactory way!

      I have a story that is based on fact which reminds me I also need to add a little explanatory note. Mind you, I transposed it into fiction throughout.

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