Suspension of disbelief

My buddy, author extraordinaire Brian Clegg, wrote a wonderful post about the suspension of disbelief. His turn of phrase – “my suspension of disbelief circuits can’t cope.” – reflects my sentiments exactly. Now Brian is Mr. SF guy by the barrel load, but his sentiments cross over to every genre because there are always elements that can stretch my good humor and willingness to follow you along your literary journey.


I’ve talked about the “too perfect” character before. We love our characters as much as the beagle loves good tequila and fresh limes. This includes characters who never have a personality failing, or can jump over tall buildings with one leap. It also follows along the other other side of the intelligence spectrum. If your character is dumber than a box of rocks, we’ll lose faith in you as a writer and be unwilling to suspend our disbelief.

As an example, I had a query where the main character, who through the course of the story of her working with street people, fell in love with the man who had stalked and brutally raped her. It wasn’t the focus of the story – but rather, a side issue. It was convoluted, disgusting, and unbelievable, and no way was Pricey going anywhere near it.

I bleat this all the time like a rabid yak high on airplane glue: Your characters are the vehicle that moves the plot, and we have to believe in them.


I know what you’re thinking; a novel is made up, so no plot is too nutso. Wrong. Like Brian said in his post, robots are created with modern day technology, and that isn’t a possibility. Think of your plot as stretching our imaginations like a rubber band. It’s elastic and pliable. But if you stretch it too far, then the rubber band breaks (hopefully smacking the beagle on the butt so she’ll wake up and answer the darn phones).

Your plot has to have some realm of believability and plausibility. Too many times I’ve seen queries whose plots are way too convoluted for me to entertain. Anytime there’s a fear of someone saying, “Aw, c’mon…srsly?” you know you’re stretching your rubber band.


Endings are so important because they have to conclude the story in a satisfactory manner that a) won’t have the reader flinging your book across the room and b) will make the reader want to buy your next book.

This is where new writers seem to have the hardest time because they either rush the ending or try to force the ending in a direction that makes no sense. Years ago I had a query where the character had been beaten, abused…all the horrible things that men can do to women…and the woman ended up “living happily ever after” with her abusive husband merely because she had changed her outlook on life. Huh? Sorry, but I can’t wrap my brain around that without some development of the husband undergoing huge changes (or a brain transplant). Yet there was none of that.

My willingness to suspend my disbelief not only tanked, but it went AWOL for a day.

So to take a page out of Brian’s post, be careful that your story doesn’t overload your readers’ suspension of disbelief circuits, or you might have an angry beagle knocking on your door. Geez, talk about suspension of disbelief…

3 Responses to Suspension of disbelief

  1. Brian Clegg says:

    Aww, shucks, Lynn! {Blushes}

  2. NinjaFingers says:

    And one of the mistakes I see in speculative fiction is the writer who says ‘Well, it’s fantasy, I…’


    Speculative fiction readers, especially science fiction readers, are the most nit picky audience there *is*. I almost couldn’t get past the first page of the DaVinci Code because my FIRST thought was ‘most human albinos do not have red eyes and human albinos have assorted health problems’. Thriller readers are less likely to care.

    Spec Fic readers care. If you don’t know how a horse behaves…learn. If you don’t know the range on an English longbow…look it up.

    Because you’re going to take the reader far *outside* the realm of human experience, you have to take extra special care to make sure those parts of the story that remain *inside* it are right.

  3. And that’s the rub, Ninjie. Readers are incredibly smart, and authors are ill-advised to mess with that. Sadly, it’s the newer writers who commit these blunders, and it makes life all the more difficult for them to break through.

    I telling a writer they had lost my attention because of the grievous errors they’d made, and the writer snarked back telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about.


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