Suspension of Disbelief – Where’s the Line?

So this is my first discussion post.  I probably won’t have many discussion posts because, quite simply, I don’t usually have discussion-type ideas.  But I did come up with a discussion post idea!!!!

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Yeah, I’m pretty excited.  Anyway, I was reading some paranormal/supernatural books recently, and I got to thinking about what I can suspend my disbelief for, and what I can’t.

You all probably know what suspension of disbelief means, but just in case, I will try to explain it. defines suspension of disbelief as

“a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.”

Basically what that means is that we, as readers (or tv/movie watchers, etc) are willing to read a book, and be completely invested in the characters and the plot even when it involves things that aren’t real (or things that wouldn’t happen realistically).  So, for example, I willingly suspended my disbelief while reading Harry Potter.  I was invested (and seriously so freaking worried) about Harry Potter as he continually fought against Voldemort.  And by doing this, I was able to dive into the story, and love it like crazy.  I felt all the feels.

There are those books where I am completely able to suspend my disbelief.  I don’t care that the book has magic, vampires, ghosts, spirits, witches, etc.  Somehow the fantastical elements and the characters and the plot all come together perfectly.

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But then there are the books that don’t just sit right with me.  I absolutely love fantasy and paranormal books.  They are so much fun, and sometimes I get so stressed for the characters, even though they aren’t real.  When I start a book, I am all set to jump on board with the characters, and the story.  I might even start out thinking yes I’m with you!  And then . . .

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Something will happen, and I just can’t buy it.  And once I can’t buy something, it takes me right out of the book.  I am not invested in the characters, and the plot will sort of fall apart for me.  And I’m all . . .

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I go into a book wanting to love it.  I’m willing to believe, but the author couldn’t convince me.  AND IT’S SO FRUSTRATING!!  Then I break out the eye-rolls and the “oh, puh-leases!” and it all goes down hill from there.

So where’e the line?  When does something go from being magical and amazing, to ridiculous and unbelievable?

I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but I thought I would break down what’s important to me.

  1. Characters – I think this is the absolutely most important aspect for me being able to suspend my disbelief.  In fact, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief on more things in a book, if the characters are fantastic.  Let’s talk Harry Potter for example.  I think JK Rowling is amazing at world-building.  But would HP have been as popular as it was if the characters hadn’t been so well-developed?  If those wizards and witches didn’t experience the same emotions that we, the readers, experience, would we have cared what happened to Harry, Ron and Hermione?  I doubt I would.  JK Rowling was able to create such amazing, fully fleshed-out characters, where I felt like they were real people.  No one was perfect; they all made mistakes.  And sure, they had magical powers, but I felt that if you took out all the magical bits of the story, these characters would still feel real.  And although I loved all the magic in HP, I probably would have loved HP even if there wasn’t this amazing, magical world.
  2. Logistics – In whatever magical world has been created, whether it be a high-fantasy world, or our world with a few paranormal creatures, or even a realistic setting but with an few outrageousnesses (like a teen spy, for example), it has to make sense.  I’m willing to believe in different fantastical elements, but those elements have to make sense, and there has to be a reason for them.  Throwing all sorts of special powers into a book shows your creativity, but doesn’t make a story great.  Let’s talk Snow White and the Huntsman (yes, I know that’s a movie, but go with me here).  Sure the visuals where gorgeous.  The big white stag thing was beautiful and watching it burst into a whole bunch of butterflies was cool.  But what purpose was that for the story?  What was the point?  And how come a certain character was able to “wake” Snow White up?  It was never even discussed in the film.   This was definitely one of the reasons the movie was a let down for me.
  3. Lack of Convenience – I hate when I’m reading a book, and the main characters are able to solve whatever issue they have because certain things are just conveniently there.  For example, I just read a paranormal YA book, and towards the end the male lead was stabbed in the chest.  But it just so happened that a women with the power to heal anyone was there, so she was able to save him.  I mean, that was just way too convenient for me.  Why was she there?  She wasn’t mentioned at all during the rest of the book.  And more importantly, why was he stabbed in the first place?  Because that didn’t make all much that sense, either (which falls into the logistics category).

So that’s what I need to willingly set aside logic to read, and enjoy, a book.  Do you agree?  Did I leave anything out?  What pulls you out of a story?

15 Responses to “Suspension of Disbelief – Where’s the Line?”

  1. Gwynneth White

    So interesting. I agree with HP. The whole world was caught up in that story because the characters were so real. Characters are key. I think paranormal/fantasy authors sometimes fall into the trap ‘that anything goes’ and it doesn’t. Everything has to connect to the world. The moment it jars, then I’m gone. Snow White and the Huntsman lost me the minute I saw the horse ‘waiting’ for her after her escape. Why? How? Too convenient. Fantasy and paranormal authors actually have to work harder than other authors to ensure they don’t abuse their ‘powers’. Great post. Please keep them coming!

    • Quinn

      I know what you mean about that horse just hanging out on the beach waiting for Snow White. I forgot about that until you mentioned it. And then the poor thing got stuck in that mud-stuff. And what was the point?

  2. J. A. Huss (@JAHuss)

    I have this problem too – mostly because I took too many science classes in college. So if an author wants me to believe something they better have the details be just vague enough that I can’t poke holes in their story (i.e. they convince me THEY know how things work, yet they never tell me the details) or they better actually have believable details. They can’t be in between. It’s takes a bit of skill to actually pull off the first one, maybe even more than the second one.

    In addition to being a blogger I’m also a SF author. I’m lucky because my editor has a highly sensitive bullshit detector and she’s not afraid to use it. (Why is this in the story? Get rid of this, no one cares! That’s not physically possible. I sure hope this makes sense in the NEXT book.) 🙂 I joke…a little, she does say all those things, but she is almost always nice about it. All authors need someone like that to call them on stuff in private otherwise they write crap about white stags running through butterfly mists and readers asking what the hell just happened.

    And yes, pulling the deus ex machina is almost always a very bad idea.

  3. Quinn

    Yes, I need to know that the author knows how things work! I don’t need to know the detailed scientific reasoning, but I need to know the basics.

  4. Brandi's Book Musings

    I like a good made up world that I can get caught up in. What I don’t like is when an author invents an entire new language of unpronouncable words for their world and has to include a dictionary in the back of the book for me to vaguely know what they are talking about. This difficulty or what I consider a lack of convenience drives me crazy. I don’t want to have to look up what the difference between uberxingderfer and uberxingdiffern is every time they are mentioned. Great post idea by the way! I enjoyed it.

    • Quinn

      Oh I get so frustrated with that, too! It takes me out of the story, because I am constantly trying to remember what these new words mean. Oh and struggling to pronounce then hurts as well!

  5. Christina

    Great discussion post! I read a lot of fantasy and have this issue from time to time. It definitely ruins it for me and I have a hard time getting back into the story. I never had this issue with Harry Potter though….like you said, J.K. Rowling is straight up amazing. The most recent book I read where I was thinking, “Seriously?? This is happening?” was probably Emblaze by Jessica Shirvington. I love this series, but there were a few moments in the third book where I wasn’t completely convinced. There’s definitely a lot to think about here…I hope you write another discussion post in the future! 🙂

    • Quinn

      I haven’t read that series by Jessica Shirvington. The most recent books that I was all “you’ve got to be kidding me” was Touch by Jus Accardo. It was just meh. Well, with lots of eye-rolling on my part.

  6. Nyx

    I completely agree with you. I have been having a hard time with this lately. If you are going through the whole trouble of making a whole different world and then please think it through completely not just half-assed, because people WILL notice. I specially have a hard time with scientific-like books, I know too much of that, so it’s really hard to sell it to me. I don’t mind the language bit as long as they have the translation right after it or before it. If you are going to have a conversation in a different language you need to make sure we actually know what’s going on. It’s like watching a foreign movie without subtitles, you are only getting half of what’s going on. Actually probably less in the case of reading cause at least with a movie if the actors are good you can read their body language as well.

    Great discussion post! 🙂

  7. Sheri @ Perks of Being a Bookworm

    Excellent discussion post!! And I couldn’t agree with you more. Characters are first for me as well I really have to be vested in them and believe in them for the book to even begin to work. And I don’t have to be like “OMG I love this person!! *Fangirl craziness* Blah, blah, blah.” It can also be an appreciated hatred for said character. By that I mean I believe and enjoy not liking them because they were written so deliciously evil. I guess like the love to hate type of thing.

    But anyway. It all actually made me think one day. I sit here and allow myself to be in this state of suspended belief over things such as vampires, werewolves, witches, magic, angels and demons, yet other stuff made me scoff and think “Yeah right”. I’m talking aliens and zombies type of situation. And I kept seeing Obsidian by JLA around and finally broke down and thought okay I allow myself to believe all that other stuff just give aliens a chance and I was a total convert by the end of chapter 1. Now I’m even branching out into zombies. So really I find if the characters are believable, the world is believable then I can pretty much open my mind to anything now 🙂

    Truly fun discussion! Thanks for letting me babble lol 😀

  8. Mel@thedailyprophecy

    I love the points you’ve made! I must agree with every thing. Especially the lack of convenience part. If things just happen without a good reason, just because it is an easy solution.. nope, not buying it. I don’t want my favorite characters to die, but it is sometimes necessarily to make the plot more realistic. Like HP, J.K Rowling let a LOT of people die and it is really sad, but it definitely added something to the story for me.

  9. missj

    Love this post! I agree, I too find it hard to think up discussion posts! Or sometimes I just can’t put my thoughts into words.

    Ohh it drive me crazy when things happen and conveniently there’s something there to solve the situation. It’s gives the feel of “Oh I totally wanted you to believe I was going to kill the love interest just to make it more interesting but I knew he wasn’t going to die all along, so no worries.”

    I read a book that I liked except that I never felt like the character was in any real danger. Making it feel like the world really did revolve around them and nothing could hurt them because she would always be saved in just the nick of time. I think when you’re going to seriously hurt your characters or put them in life threatening situations you have to give in to the chance that just perhaps that character isn’t really going to survive. What are the odds that someone in real life would survive this situation? etc. It just lets the book down.

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