|Photo credit: seasonal wanderer on Flickr|
Regardless of however the title may or may not sound, I’m not really referring to mind control—I’m referring to suspension of disbelief.
As writers, you have the unique ability to make anything possible. You aren’t bound by laws of physics or reality or even time—whatever you can imagine, you can create on the page. Dragons, zombies, angels, horned beaver-goats—writers set the rules to the worlds that they create.
But as Aunt May so famously told a young Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility.
With every book (or series) you write, you set up the rules of that reality. Whether it’s literary fiction, epic fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc., it’s your job as the writer to establish some form of boundaries and guidelines. In the Harry Potter series, for example, J.K. Rowling established early on that even the most powerful wizards prefer performing magic with wands, while in Eragon (Christopher Paolini), magic was performed without the use of any wands whatsoever and in The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson), magic could only be performed with the aid of the rare Godstone.
The key is to set up rules that fit with whatever genre you write in. Readers of fantasy expect a certain amount of, well, the fantastic—whether its dragons, magic, elves, all of the above or something entirely different—there are expectations within the genre that you as a writer in that genre have to adhere to. If The Lord of the Rings ended with an alien invasion or a stampede of pink squirrels made of sugar, readers would riot because it completely breaks the rules that J.R.R.Tolkein so carefully established.
Beyond world rules however, writers have the important job of ensuring that their characters don’t act out of character, and thus break the readers’ suspension of disbelief. If Katniss, for example, started flirting with Cato because he was cute, or Harry Potter decided to join Voldemort and become a Death Eater, to say that they’d be breaking character would be a huge understatement.
There are two very simple things writers must do to ensure suspension of disbelief:
- Set up the rules. Establish (or hint at) world rules quickly, as well as the rules (or personalities) of your characters.
- Stick with them.
It’s ok to occasionally break a rule, but make sure it’s justified—establish a new rule that renders the broken rule obsolete, or give a character a motivation for his otherwise unbelievable action, but make sure it’s fully explained in your book, or risk losing that suspension of disbelief.
Have you ever read a book that shattered your suspension of disbelief? What do you think caused it? What’s your favorite example of suspension of disbelief?