Disbelieving is Believing


I write a lot of genre stuff. You know, science fiction, speculative fiction, young adult, and the sort. If there is one thing that I have found to be incredibly important when writing that kind of fiction, it is suspension of disbelief.

Like I posted before, suspension of disbelief is an incredibly important tool when you are writing genre fiction. Just like I stated in that post, Cars is a great example of where suspension of disbelief can go wrong. There is an entire universe in Cars that is based on the fact that all cars are anthropomorphic beings that rule this world. Everything is set up for the cars. They do all the jobs in this world, they eat and drink oil, they have an economy and sports industry that is set up around cars and what they can do as living beings.

That is all well and good. But there is one small detail that throws me completely out of that universe. There are handles on the car doors. Why is this such a big deal? Well, if cars are the people in this universe, then why would there be handles on the car doors so that people could get inside? Yes, all cars have doors in our universe but they wouldn’t need them in a world with no people.

Okay. I get it. I am talking about a children’s movie. And I am talking about something incredibly small that most people would gloss over and not give a second thought to. But it is still something that pulls me completely out of the universe. And it’s something that I just can’t get over.

There are other universes that do this, too. Why don’t the kids learn arithmetic or grammar in the Harry Potter universe? Is it a skill that they just don’t need? Why in every fugitive procedural crime drama do they only send in a few cops to arrest a bunch of well armed bad guys? (I’m looking at you, The Following.) There are plenty of places to look, but if you look at all of them, it will probably drive you insane. And I’m sure that some of the things that I love most have things in them that affect viewer’s and reader’s suspension of disbelief that I just can’t see.

What’s important here is making sure that you try and mitigate the factors that will undo suspension of disbelief. Making sure that you are able to properly suspend a reader’s disbelief is incredibly important when you are building a universe. And that is because of what I stated above — a reader or viewer can be brought out of your universe because of even a small event.

You can have a universe that is inhabited by monsters and elves, you can have a universe based in far off galaxies, you can have a universe in which machines rule the planet. What is important is to make sure that you keep your details straight and don’t stray too far from what makes your universe believable.

You can build a universe that takes place in space and has ships that travel faster than the speed of light. But if you don’t take the time to explain why these ships travel this fast and make sure that this explanation fits within the rules of known physics (or perhaps with the physics that you have invented for your universe — that’s fine, too), then no one is going to be able to believe that these ships could exist in your universe.

It’s always tough, when you are writing, to make sure that you are taking care of all the details. Making sure that everything matches up and that it all makes sense. But it is incredibly important to do. It is incredibly important that you make sure that you details are coherently put together, and that what you are making is believable.

In genre fiction, you want your reader to get sucked in. Making sure that your details are up to par and that a reader’s suspension of disbelief is placated should be tops on your to-do list.

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