I recently read an article from a friend and fellow author Lou Kemp. She discusses the concept of “Suspension of Disbelief.” What a fascinating idea. One I had never truly thought about. But isn’t that what we, as readers, do every time we open a book. We enter another world, the author’s imagination.
Lou very eloquently describes ‘Suspension of Belief’ from the perspective of fantasy, magic and science fiction. Excerpt from: Suspension of Disbelief. Or, How Authors Cause Rational Readers to Jump on a Supernatural Train by Lou Kemp
Suspension of Disbelief
The suspension of disbelief has been around a long time. In modern times, even the most unexpected genres of novels not labeled as fantasy or science fiction suspend belief in their readers. It could be manifested in the unlikely physical powers of the characters, or weather phenomena that is a bit unusual, or something mystical that the reader is willing to take a chance on. The Preston and Child’s Pendergast series has at times blended the eastern philosophy of reaching a person’s inner “rooms” as a vehicle into revelations by the title character. It is done masterfully.
Definition: Suspension of disbelief. “Is the intentional avoidance of critical thinking, or logic, in examining something unreal or impossible in reality, such as a work of speculative fiction, in order to believe it for the sake of enjoyment. Aristotle first explored the idea of the concept in its relation to the principles of theater; the audience ignores the unreality of fiction in order to experience catharsis.” —Wikipedia
The term “suspension of disbelief” was introduced by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817. He demonstrated it in his most famous work.
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
Samuel Taylor Coleridge—The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner
Within a few lines, his poem introduces a ghost ship. How did he do it? Coleridge maintained that if a writer inserted “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the suspension of belief would occur. It sometimes takes a bit more. Coleridge also called the phenomena “poetic faith”, citing the concept as a feeling analogous to the supernatural, which awakens the mind. If it is done well, it will do more than “awaken” the reader.
Tolkien says the reader must believe. Otherwise, the narrative does not work. It is the job of the author to make the reader believe.
Suspension of Disbelief: Celwyn
Lou Kemp’s Celwyn series centers around three protagonists, Jonas Celwyn: the immortal magician. Professor Xiau Kang is an automat, a mechanical man with human attributes. Kang is also a medical man and scientist. Bartholomew is an engineer. In 1865, they set forth from Prague.
From Lou Kemp’s first page, she weaves a masterful plot of treachery and deception around magicians, mechanical men and birds, flying machines, supernatural trains, the Nautilus, ghosts, and vampires. She adds in characters such as Jules Verne and Captain Nemo. Her plots and characters work because she makes you believe. After reading her first book, The Violins Played before Junstan, I was hooked on the series and the characters.
Between the pages of a book, we are drawn into another world, another dimension, We suspend our beliefs as we follow the fictional characters, characters we love and hate. We are propelled into an emotional roller coaster of drama, intrigue, suspense, terror, romance, oh, the list is endless.
Do we love it? Absolutely! For that moment of time, we suspend our beliefs, to live out the fantasy of another. Every novel has a mystery. It is what entices us, makes us keep turning the pages. Who lives, who dies, who loves, who hates—it’s the mystery. There is a tingle, a sense of anticipation, as we read that first sentence, whether it’s a novel from a favorite author or a new one. It’s why we are drawn back time and time again to a book.
Suspension of Disbelief: Deadly Keepsakes
My latest novel, Deadly Keepsakes, is the first of a new mystery series. My female characters have been described as kick-ass protagonists. My new character, Tori Winters is no exception. The star witness in a murder trial, despite the threats and stalking, Tori defiantly testifies. Then someone tries to kill her. She isn’t about to give the killer a second chance. With no job, her car packed with all her worldly possessions, she’s headed out of town. A mysterious phone call about an obscure inheritance leads her to Granbury, Texas, where she believes she will be safe in this quaint, small town. Instead, her world is about to spin into another existence where nothing is as it seems. The historic house she inherits is steeped with secrets from the past. Ones she’s been warned are deadly. Only problem is that she doesn’t know what they are. When a killer strikes again, her newfound wealth may not be a blessing. It could be her death warrant.
During the editing of the manuscript, my editor, Jennie Rosenblum, sent me an email. In it, she said, “I’m back in Tori’s world tomorrow.” How descriptive is that? Tori’s rags to riches world is filled with murder, mayhem, deadly secrets, and Texas-sized skullduggery.
Still, it’s about suspending belief. Whether is a mystery, science fiction, a crime thriller, romance, paranormal, or any other genre, it all comes down to that single element. Giving the reader a ride, that takes them into another world, making the reader believe.
My thanks to Lou Kemp for allowing me to use excerpts from her article. Additional information can be found at https://www.loukemp.com/about-the-author/
Link to preorder Deadly Keepsakes on Amazon
About Lou kemp
Although originally from California, Lou resides in the Pacific Northwest with family and a herd of cats who like to block her computer screen whenever possible. Before turning to writing full time, she was an engineer and project manager. When not writing, Lou quilts for charity and edits on a pro-bono basis for other authors.
Early work was horror and suspense, later work morphed into a combination of magical realism, mystery and adventure painted with a horrific element as needed.
I’m one of those writers who doesn’t plan ahead, no outlines, no clue, and sometimes write myself into a corner. Atmospheric music in the background helps entice the moodier muse that must be present. Black by Pearl Jam is one that really helps.
Visit Lou: https://loukemp.com/
Anita Dickason is a retired police officer with a total of twenty-seven years of law enforcement experience, twenty-two with Dallas PD. She served as a patrol officer, undercover narcotics officer, advanced accident investigator, tactical officer and first female sniper on the Dallas SWAT team.
Great article! Some books make it easier to suspend disbelief than others.
You know I love your kick-ass female protagonists! I’ve preordered Deadly Keepsakes and can’t wait to read it. I’ve not read Lou’s books, but they’re certainly on my TBR list now. They sound wonderful, right up my alley!
i think this is my favorite novel of yours…so far.