Suspending Your Reader’s Disbelief

As a fiction writer, and one who dwells primarily in the fantasy/sci-fi realm, one of the most important aspects of my story telling is suspending the disbelief of my readers. It is essential that I create a world which is very different from the ‘real world’, but that is still completely believable to my readers. Here are several things I like to keep in mind:

Whenever I write story elements that do not actually exist in the ‘real world’, but do exist in the world I am creating, the first thing I think about is, what those elements can and cannot do. The question that is foremost in my mind is not ‘what can I do?’ but ‘what can I NOT do?’ In the same way that boundaries, and rules exist in the ‘real world’, so too do fictional worlds need rules. Establishing the boundaries of my fictional world gives it instant credibility.
In my novel, Magician’s Mayhem, two of the characters have a discussion about the limits of magic, and the ethical responsibilities of magicians.
“There was nothing at all she could do?” Tobin asked, surprised. He had thought there was nothing that magic couldn’t do.
“No,” Darcie replied simply.” And even if it was within her power, I don’t think she would have done it. There are some lines you just don’t cross. That was the first time I was exposed to the limits of magic. Or at least the limits of a magician. There are certain kinds of magic that an ethical magician will not perform.”
“What sorts of things?” Tobin asked.
“Well, bringing people back from the dead,” Darcie answered. “Only necromancers deal with death in that manner. Killing someone with magic is also forbidden. No magician would do that.”
One of the easiest ways to lose a reader’s belief, is to have a character act in a way that is untrue to the personality traits established for that character. Sometimes writers will make their characters act in a way that is contrived, in order to further their plot line. But readers are intuitive, and they (we!) invest emotionally in characters. Readers are extremely willing to trust a fictional world, but close attention must be paid to the personality parameters of that character. I make sure to give that trust the utmost respect. If I find yourself writing something into my plot that is untrue to my characters, I will ALWAYS think again! I make sure to find another way to do it, so that I always remain true to that character.
I also like to remember that people are changed by their experiences, and so too must characters change with the experiences I write for them. I have to ensure that those changes are the natural progression of characterization, and not simply plot manipulations. A great way to do that, is to make comprehensive character maps, which I discussed in detail here.
Ensuring that fictional elements in the story have great names, lends that element a lot of credibility. Names are an essential aspect of story-telling. I find that creating a descriptive, catchy name is akin to the work an advertiser does when selling a product. Names create an associated idea the second they are read. By giving the fictional elements of a story appropriate names, I can ‘sell’ that idea to my reader, and capture their belief instantaneously. One way to do this is to decide what is the most essential aspect of the fictional element I’ve created. I like to use splashdown’ to capture every single word I can think of, that I would associate with that fictional element. Then I have a myriad of choices, to ensure that the name I choose best encapsulates the idea I am trying to convey to my reader.
In my upcoming novel, I have a created a future version of the ‘real world’. In that world, police officers are armed with a weapon that I named a ‘Current Cane.’ This weapon is similar to a nightstick, but it has an electrical current running through it, and it functions much like our modern day tasers. The name ‘Current Cane’ is descriptive, concise, and most importantly, it’s catchy. (I am particularly fond of alliteration when creating catchy names.) By paying attention to such details, I have created an object which is immediately accepted into the imagination of my reader.

What tips do you use to suspend a reader’s disbelief? 

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  1. […] As a fiction writer, and one who dwells primarily in the fantasy/sci-fi realm, one of the most important aspects of my story telling is suspending the disbelief of my readers. It is essential that …  […]