Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Fun Stuff: More Plot Flaws

Willingful suspension of disbelief (also willing suspension of disbelief, but I learned the term as willingful).

This basically means that if you do a good job, the reader will go anywhere with you.  If establish good parameters and establish the world well, the reader will travel with you.  The reader willingly suspends their belief to travel through fiction (and in particular, fantasy and science fiction) to go on an adventure.

And readers know when you start to lie and deviate from the rules.

Basically, we have two rules with which to work.
  1. Make the world believable with lots of details.
  2. Make the people believable with lots of humanity.
Take The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  This world is fairly simply.  The rules basically involve talking animals, some magic, and a winter that never ends--which, if you have ever lived in Minnesota or apparently the Northern Plains this year, is fairly convincing.  Also, we travel into this world with a group of kids that learn about the rules with us.  

Then, we need to believe the characters.  The siblings interact like four children who are siblings.  When Edmund betrays the others, we believe it, especially if we have siblings.

The interesting thing about the willingful suspension of disbelief is when a writer breaks them.

Take Brazil again.  You can almost point to the moment in the movie when you can't believe in the world anymore--it has broken from the rules.  We know it, the filmmaker knows it, and we start to roll our eyes.  We know this isn't going to work.

And then, we know the filmmaker is just playing with us.  Terry pushed us and played with us, and we realize it.

And even though Terry broke the rules, we play along.  Mostly, we're okay with it.

Here's a video that should be funny but isn't really.  Nonetheless, it has a great breakdown of the guidelines of suspension of disbelief:


  1. Hmmm... Easy to make some political jabs this season with willingful suspension. Better hope Mike doesn't take the bait (I secretly hope he does! Doritos time!). However, staying focused, I think fantasy (and sci-fi) are more convincing when their humans and mythical creatures (humans and otherworldly entities) don't find it strange to be in their time and place and utilize their magic (technology) as if its normal. Interactions between characters and their environment must never seem strange, either. Not easy to do, obviously, especially if the human characters still behave like humans (emotionally, selfishly, selflessly, Godly...). Yet, that is the essence (purpose?) of fantasy (sci-fi), is it not? --Harry Potter (Spock) out.

  2. This is very true. An easy trick in sic-fi and fantasy, however, is to introduce an outsider into the world. An outsider can learn about the world with the readers and show them around. This happens in "Lion, Witch and Wardrobe" and also something like "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe" (Harry Potter, too, now that I'm thinking about it.) It's a great way for the reader to see the strange world through another lens, who is just as new and unfamiliar to the world as the reader is.
    This can work very well, but Randy's point about making the characters seamlessly a part of the world, mentally and emotionally connected to the culture and society of where they live. Very difficult, perhaps, but important.
    But then, like so much sci-fi and fantasy, something strange or unusual must happen, and the characters must react to this and show why it is so out-of-the ordinary.