Ruminating On: The Suspension of Disbelief

When I read fiction, there is only thing I consciously look for: Believability. Honestly, that’s all I can ask. I want the author to make me believe that what I am reading could actually happen. Even in the cases of supernatural, fantasy and science fiction, I need grounding moments, character development, and moreover, a reason to care. It doesn’t matter if you’re protagonist is an asexual, twelve-foot-tall, headless lizardman, if I can’t grasp his motivations, I’m going to put your book down, or turn off your movie.

I am not the type of person to finish a piece of entertainment just because I started it. Examples: I’ll give you fifty pages to hook me, or fifteen celluloid minutes to draw me in. If you can’t manage that, I can’t manage to finish your work. I don’t owe you my attention, nor do I owe you an apology for your shortcomings. Since I don’t delve into piracy, if I’m partaking in your creation, that means I’ve purchased your wares (even downloading a free book requires I give up space on my Kindle), so I expect you to perform the needed tasks. Questions being raised at the beginning of a story are needed to garner interest, but they must be the right kind of questions. I don’t want to ask myself where people are, why they are there and when said timeframe is. Needed questions are: What’s going to happen next? Are they going to be all right? and I wonder if I can find the time to spare so I don’t have to put this book down or step away from the movie.

I’ve seen a lot of crap in my day, but most of it is subjective. Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that there are no “false” reviews on Amazon and every five star opinion is a factual representation of that reader’s reaction to the work. Okay, with that imaginary baseline drawn, I’ve picked up some stinkers with all five stars. These readers found their suspension of disbelief within the same pages where I couldn’t find mine. I respect their opinion and do not question their motives, rather like I can read a book where there are errors galore and still enjoy the story, whereas many will stop dead in their tracks and return the book for a full refund.

My favorite movie of all time is Howard The Duck and don’t you dare judge me for it. When I was younger I believed the draw of that movie lay within the storytelling. Now, over twenty-five years later, I see that where the movie succeeds is with suspension. I watch Howard and Beverly kiss (yes, you only see this represented on the wall with their shadows, but it’s still a woman kissing a humanoid duck in a loving fashion) and I never questioned how fucking sick that scene truly is. We’re talking bestiality here, people, and only this one movie has ever pulled it off. The film makers get away with this because the scene comes toward the middle of the movie and you’ve already come to understand the characters and care for them. It just feels… well, it feels right. I fell in love with all the characters (especially Tim Robbins’s quirky Phil Blumburtt and Jeffrey Jones’s pre-monstrous Dr. Walter Jenning). The film has everything a movie-fan could ever want; action, romance (bestial or not), horror, suspense, and a whole metric-ton of comedy. And the soundtrack? Mo-Frackin’ `80’s gold! George Lucas doesn’t like to be remembered as having anything to do with the film, that his production company and special FX team created my fondest childhood memory, is a moot point to a man that went and made Greedo shoot first to make Hans Solo “socially acceptable.”  It hurts my heart. It’s like the parents of the one you love telling you their child isn’t worthy of your love. That doesn’t make you love their child any less, it only makes you dislike the parents.

Wow, I took an express train to WTF-ville there; didn’t I? I’m back now. Did you enjoy the ride? I did. Okay, moving on.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a great many authors that pull off terrific openings only to shit the bed before the sun rises on their conclusions. One of my heroes—Stephen King—is like this. The man hooks you directly, slaps you in the face with his engorged member, and proceeds to molest your brain through your eye cavity. Then, right when you think he’s about to climax, he pulls out and dribbles on his Easter basket. But still, he had you long enough to make you care about the finale.

We need the incredible in our lives, so keep on pressing on, but remember to root everything you do in reality. Even the surreal can feel real if done properly. You must find your niche, your hook, your method of skull intrusion, or risk someone not finishing your work. Because I’ll walk away with my balls swinging, just watch me. If you can’t be bothered to entertain my attention-deficit-ass with a constant flow of shiny objects, I’m going to give someone else a shot.

“They call `im Howard… the Duck! (YEAH!)  Ain’t no way to conceal it! And he shot an arrow straight through my heart!”


Oops, almost forgot, leave your favorite outrageous, could-NEVER-happen movie or book in the comment section. Tell me why you love it so much, and how the creators managed to suspend your disbelief. Later!


7 thoughts on “Ruminating On: The Suspension of Disbelief

  1. avcarden

    I have seen a film that was totally inbelievable, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it is. As soon as I do remember I’ll let you know! It’s really bugging me. :/

      1. This is exactly why I piss my family off sometimes E. I really can’t help it, and the harder I try to remember, the more I forget. I’ll have a look for some triggers that might help me remember. 🙂

  2. “When I read fiction, there is only thing I consciously look for: Believability.” So say we all!

    As for a ‘never could happen,’ hmmm…. I’m going to go old school on this one and say “Rosemary’s Baby.” Genetically, it seems improbable that demons and humans could produce viable offspring. Ira Levin makes it seem believable and roots it in the very, very realistic horror of something being or going wrong during pregnancy. Rooting something unreal in a common fear is an excellent method of skull penetration. Of course, I’ll also say that “Rosemary’s Baby” fell apart at the end for me because I felt the main character became too pliant, and didn’t fight hard enough. But, I forgive Levin, because the rest of the book was so believable.


    1. Rosemary’s Baby… *shivers.

      I never read the book because the movie streaked my shorts significantly enough. The conception scene gave me nightmares for weeks afterward. Since I live the books I read and write, I will forever stay away from Levin’s work.


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