Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Suspension of Disbelief

Writers sometimes ask you to believe crazy things when they write their books -- vampires who go to high school, gladiatorial games where kids are killed, the idea that the boy you love when you're sixteen will be with you forever and ever... 

And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, depending on the reader. 

Or the viewer. 

Because really, it would be easier to train oil rig workers to be astronauts than it would be to train astronauts to use oil rig equipment? NASA doesn't have enough highly skilled engineers? 

(BTW, guess what I caught on TV the other night?) 

But that's what the willing suspension of disbelief is all about. And, if you can allow yourself to accept whatever crazy premise you're asked to, the ride gets much easier. 

As Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in 1817: "It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith." 

Okay, so a lot of that was probably the opium talking, but the point is a good one. Just because a story could not possibly be real, doesn't mean there's no truth in it. 

And this is one of those things where your mileage may vary. What works for you, might not work for me. A talking cat? Ridiculous! 

But you know what? If I can't wrap my head around a cat that talks (and has infinite other cats under his hat), that's my loss. Because stories should never be judged on their reality. This is fiction, after all. Stories should be judged on what we take away from them, no more and no less. And, when I was four, those endless cats, stacked like babushkas, gave my my first look at infinity. Also, there were hijinks and messes and chaos. 


Has your suspension of disbelief ever faltered and ruined a story for you? 


  1. I forgot about all those cats in the hat until just now, and flashed back to me as a kid thinking what a boring life they must have up there, and if they've heard everything that's happened, and how they can breathe and so on. But it was like magic, so it was okay. I had a harder time with the talking fish. : p

    And about Armageddon, I've never seen it, but I did enjoy this review.


    1. See, I always suspected they were up to hijinks inside the hat.... The talking fish, just disturbing!

      That review of Armageddon is hilarious. Armageddon is one of those popcorn blow-em-up movies that I enjoy, but I can't fault that review at all. I particularly loved the "Nothing can save us but Gamera!"

  2. I happen to love Bruce Willis movies, and I liked this one. I can easily suspend my disbelief for scifi or fantasy.

    Popcorn movies have their place. Uber-escapism.

    1. I couldn't agree more! Sometimes you just need to watch stuff blow up :)

  3. Totally, and not just for fantastical stories. A thing can be unrealistic as long as it makes sense. Heck, sometimes it doesn't even have to make sense to be enjoyable (that's what I think of Armageddon).

    1. Exactly. As long as its internal logic is stable, that's all that matters.

  4. I go in ready to believe anything and have to be knocked out of the story (which I often am).


  5. Nothing ruins a good story like a sudden fail in internal logic, Mood. I try to approach the same way as you do: I'm ready to believe anything.

  6. As I was reading this, someone rode by my house on a horse. Seriously. May or may not be the same person who was across the road a few weeks ago wearing a cape and swinging a machete. I am ready to believe anything. And I get so excited when real life is as weird as fiction.

    1. Me too! It just makes the day so much more exciting!

      Although I hope he puts his machete away.



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