Saturday, 19 October 2013

Suspending Disbelief for Readers – Part 2


After a much needed vacation in sunnier surrounds, it’s now back to business. 
We’ll continue our look at how ways to suspend a reader’s disbelief and get them believing in your story and characters.  Writers can do this by focusing on several elements, so we’ll focus on the remaining pointers noted in Part 1 - Believable Character Goals, Immediacy, Eliminating Uncertainty, Subplots and the Right Setting.

Believable Character Goals
This is pretty self-explanatory. If your characters don’t have much to strive for and achieve by the end of the story, then why should a reader be bothered about what your characters do? 

Your main character’s goal forms an important crux to the story arc. Their struggle to achieve that goal, and all the obstacles they face in doing so, is what keeps the reader invested in the outcome, so give the characters believable goals rather than outlandish ones, such as saving the world from imminent disaster (one of the worst clichés).
Readers will readily identify better with probable goals because they will be able to imagine themselves in that role.
So, even if you have an outlandish plot, you can still make the reader suspend disbelief by creating the kind of believable character goals that they can recognise and understand.

Immediacy

Of all the tools available to a writer, immediacy is one of the most underused and yet most effective ways to bring your reader as close to the subject and the characters as humanly possible.
Immediacy is the intimate connection between the story and the reader – if a writer lacks immediacy within the writing, then the reader might not be able to emotionally connect with the characters or the narrative, and if that happens, the reader is unlikely to enjoy the story.

Writers must establish an emotional connection between the reader and the characters to do this.  This is why fully developed characterisation is so important and why character goals make the reader want to invest in what is going on.

Readers love characters who are very much like themselves in a way; they recognise something of themselves in your characters, and that’s why immediacy is such a key element to fiction writing.
By creating immediacy with the reader, you instantly eliminate any disbelief they may have with your story because they will care about the characters too much to worry about a crazy plot.

Eliminating uncertainty – make things plausible
It’s down to the ability of the writer to make the implausible plausible. 

But what does that mean exactly?  It means eliminating any hint of uncertainty within the writing, because the reader will immediately pick up on writing that is weak or lacks confidence. 
Readers are smart and they will know when things don’t add up or the facts aren’t right. They will spot poor plot construction and poor characterisation even if you don’t.  This is where uncertainty can creep in.

Remember, details, details, details.  That way, even those elements that seem quite implausible can become diluted by the quality and minutiae you add to the narrative.  You eliminate uncertainty, and thus make things plausible, by adding as much detail for the reader as you can.
Interesting Subplots

Subplots are a great way of focusing attention away from the main thread of a story for a short while. They create an extra dimension (or two) to the story, and while they are smaller stories in their own way, they are still inexorably linked to the main plot.
So even with a rather implausible story, you may still be able to make some elements believable with the help of strong subplots to keep the reader engaged and invested with your story. 

The Right Setting
The right setting may not seem an obvious way to get a reader to suspend their disbelief, but a well-rendered setting does help.  As the writer, you have to give the illusion that even where the story takes place is entirely fictitious, it needs to be real for the reader, or that it closely resembles a real life place. 

The reason for this is to create an emotional attachment of sorts between the fictional world and the reader.  The more connections you can make, the better the chances for the reader to suspend their disbelief, regardless of how strong or weak the main story might be. 
As already pointed out, the more detail you can provide, the better chance of them believing totally in your story.

All these elements together help thin the strangeness or absurdities that sometimes make up implausible plots or outlandish or unbelievable stories. You’re not just suspending disbelief; you’re creating belief where it would otherwise not materialise.
Remember, detail, detail, detail.

One last important note.  Never let the story sit still.  Always move the story forward.

Next week: Why you should back your characters into corners.

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