Sunday, December 12, 2010

Suspending Disbelief?

I love when my new Writer's Digest comes in the mail. I always find something that helps with what I am working on at the time. This time, in an article by Steven James, 3 Secrets to Great Storytelling, I had a lightbulb moment on secret number 2. The other secrets were good, too, but this one really brought home something I had been missing.

James says that readers aren't really suspending their disbelief when they pick up a story, they "approach stories wanting to believe them." [emphasis in original] He says it's our job as writers to give the reader a reason to keep believing. To do it, he asks, "What would this character naturally do in this situation?" Any time your characters are doing something that doesn't answer this question, the reader will notice, and James says you'd better give them a reason why.

When it's all spelled out like that, it sounds completely logical, like it shouldn't have to be a lightbulb moment. I've been fumbling about trying to outline a plot and still keep my characters "in character." This question makes it so much easier to line the two things up. Rather than keeping the readers' disbelief going, I'm trying to maintain their belief in my characters. That's so much easier to figure out. If it's not logical in the story, then it goes.

What about you? Do you think readers are suspending disbelief, or do they want to believe? Ever have an "aha!" moment over something that seems like just common sense once you figure it out?