Suspension of Disbelief: A Writer’s Goal

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By Ane Mulligan

Jim Rubart wrote a good piece for Novel Rocket about how authors write. He said:

“I continue to read traditionally published books where I think the novelist is wasting words and keeping the reader from going deeper into the POV of the protagonist. Here’s what I mean:

I frequently see sentences such as this: ‘He could hear the elephants stomp through the forest.'”

He went on to talk about writing tight, but there is another problem here. The old show vs tell. The above sentence is telling. So, why is telling so bad in a book? Because most of the time, it reminds the reader that, after all, this is only the product of an author’s imagination, and in doing so, you’ve destroyed the suspension of disbelief.

A covenant to suspend disbelief
Why is suspending disbelief so important? It’s a covenant between you and your reader to enter the story world. You’ve asked him to believe everything you’ve put in your book for the time it takes him to read it. He wants to experience what your characters do. He wants to be an insider-a BFF of your protagonist, privy to all his thoughts. He’s entered this covenant willingly, but if you break the covenant he isn’t likely to buy your next book.

So how do you avoid breaking the covenant? By learning to show the story through your POV character’s eyes. That means everything. What he thinks, hears, sees, smells, touches, his emotions, and then his thoughts on those.

Take a look around you
Look around you. What do you see? What do you notice? Imagine you’re sitting in Starbucks. You may be writing. A fellow gets up across the room and your eyes lift form your laptop. You’ve noticed him. What does he do? Is there anything noteworthy about him? A sentence, short and sweet, can make your reader feel like he’s inside the character’s head. The reader is experiencing what the character is.

Use those observations metaphorically to show the reader the character’s mindset at that moment. What he notices will say a lot about what he’s thinking and feeling. If he’s experiencing guilt, then his worldview isn’t rosy. He’d notice the dark parts of life.

Ane Mulligan OctAne Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. Her debut book Chapel Springs Revival releases Sept 8th, 2014. She’s a playwright, a humor columnist and a syndicated blogger. She resides in Suwanee, GA, with her artist husband, chef son, and two dogs of Biblical proportion.

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