Suspending Disbelief

Writers sometimes ask a lot of their readers. No more so when we write action, fantasy, science fiction and horror. It is within those realms that we ask our readers to suspend disbelief. That is to ignore their critical faculties, to sacrifice reason, to set aside logic and to believe the surreal and the absurd for the sake of entertainment. Poet/philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge is credited with coining the term in 1817.

I’m always a fan of writing that makes sense, but sometimes the ‘makes sense’ part is subject to the fictional world in which it exists. In the far future, in another dimension, when the surreal world encroaches upon our own, the reader must let go of his preconceived notions and the things he knows to be true in order to enjoy the story he’s reading. Really, how much more fun is it to believe the impossible for the length of a novel than to constantly remind one’s self what is true?

Of course, there are are many shades of this particular grey and some ‘disbeliefs’ will more easily suspended than others. You might be able to get ‘aboard’ an alien starship because the existence of aliens has neither been proven nor disproven. Perhaps you don’t buy into the concept of alien life in our universe but you may be able to enjoy a story set in the distant future because we can only imagine the kinds of amazing technology humans will develop given enough time. Maybe you like a modern day conspiracy theory story with a shadowy government organization operating behind the scenes. In all of these examples there is that leap of imagination requiring the suspension of disbelief.

So if you find that suspending disbelief is not something you easily do, then realistic fiction will be your only cup of tea. I do hope you like tea in all its many flavors!

22 thoughts on “Suspending Disbelief

    1. Thanks, Cyndi. My reading goes through phases too. I’m mostly reading history and historical fiction myself. But I do love a good science fiction story as well. 😃

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      1. Rallying the troops. I saw a political ad just a bit ago and it was for a republican candidate, stating the democratic opponent was pro-resistance. Resistance??? What the fuck? So as a Democrat, I’m now considered part of the “resistance”? What is this, a Star Wars episode? Jesus. They really are full of themselves right now.

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      2. That kind of language does rally the base, though… And gives them permission to ‘fight’ back. Thank goodness for Netflix so I can turn off regular TV and avoid the political ads!

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  1. I love suspending my disbelief while reading a good story that may stretch the truth a bit. For Sci Fyi, I call this Science Fun. For the more serious stuff that requires research, I call that Science Fact. A mix of the two makes a great story.

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  2. While we have to live in this real world with real problems, it is sometimes necessary to go beyond the reality and imagine things which are not real now but which could become in future. This, I think, helps us in some way to keep our mental balance by distracting our focus somewhere else at least for some duration of time. May be it is a rejuvenating period. However, in Hinduism, even the real world we live in is ‘maya’, that which is only an illusion. So I guess the belief is already suspended!

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    1. I think you’re so right: it is helpful and restorative to escape into a good story. I also think a flight of the imagination is what sparks our own creativity! Ah, so then everything is illusion, interesting… this concept is found within the realms of science and science fiction as well – think The Matrix movies. And Neil deGrasse Tyson has pondered on the idea that our universe is a vast computer simulation of another higher alien species! Wouldn’t that be something!

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