Thursday, April 22, 2010

Believing in Magic

If you are a writer of fiction, you are likely familiar with the term "Suspension of Disbelief."

This is a process, skill, or whatever you might call it coined by poet and aesthetic philosopher, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Since it's first explanation, suspension of disbelief has been used and talked about by writers, poets, filmmakers, and politicians. Even Shakespeare included it in his works.

Basically, the key to this formula is to provide the reader with some semblance of truth they can use as a springboard into the truly fantastic. My observation is, the more fantastic the story, the more willing the reader is to suspend their disbelief for your story.

I find that readers of science fiction, fantasy and romance are more willing to believe a fantastic story even if it does not have any grounding in the real world. They are less likely to believe a fantastic story if the writer either does not follow the conventions and rules normally associated with the genre, or does not write with enough skill and imagination to get away with breaking those rules.

Suspension of disbelief seems to be more difficult to achieve when one writes across genres.

For instance, I am currently working on a project involving a relationship between a succubus and a werewolf. What the &*#, you say? To make it even more complicated, the succubus desires true love in spite of her inherent physical need to have sex with men and drain them of their life-force, and the werewolf is the police inspector investigating her for murder.

I hope to grab my readers and prompt them to suspend their disbelief of this fantastical, and completely unrealistic story by planting my characters in the real world and giving them real motives and actions. Sure my succubus can walk through walls and shapeshift, but I'm hoping that if I can write my character in such a way that it seems normal to her, it will seem normal enough for the reader.

So, some keys to getting readers to believe your magic are listed below. Keep in mind that these are my own observations and written under no specific authority or privileged knowledge.

1. Begin the story in a believable world with believable character actions, or open by building a believable world for the reader in the beginning.

2. Write your character so the fantastic world they live in seems real and normal to them. If the reader senses that the characters don't believe their own world, how can they believe it?

3. Return to some reasonable and believable grounding point often in your story. Even if your believable thread is nothing more than believable thought patterns of your characters, this process will allow the reader to identify with the characters even if they are in a foreign land, country, time, or universe.

4. End your story with the same elements of closure, character growth, or completion of the quest as with other stories. Even if your character is a seven-foot translucent squid-shaped creature, they should be able to embrace their significant other and express happiness (or happiness for now) in this new world.

Take it for what it's worth. Now, keep writing.