When I first started writing this post, I kept trying to come up with examples of why it’s important to maintain your reader’s suspended disbelief. I wrote a bunch of drafts and deleted them all because they were either too complicated or too boring. And then I remembered this:
See the Starbucks cup? That’s what I’m talking about today.
What is suspended disbelief?
Suspended disbelief is when your reader intentionally avoids using logic when they’re reading fiction, so they can enjoy it for what it is.
When you disrupt your reader’s suspended disbelief, like someone accidentally did when they left their Starbucks cup on the table in that scene of Game of Thrones, it can impact their enjoyment of your book. I don’t even watch GoT (I have read the books, though), but I remember people making a big deal out of this when it happened. It seems silly, but it really does affect how your audience perceives your work.
Maintaining suspended disbelief
The end-all, be-all secret to maintaining a reader’s suspended disbelief is to write with consistency. Let’s break that down a little.
You need to be consistent in your language. Your characters’ speech depends on their own personalities, cultures, backgrounds, etc. Your narrative voice should have a unique sound that goes well with your characters’ dialogue. Everything needs to sort of fit together, like the pieces of a puzzle, and you need to have some degree of consistency to it.
Sometimes this means maintaining simple language. Other times it means acknowledging what your characters are likely–or not likely–to say, and sticking with that.
I’ve talked a little about character flaws in the past, so I won’t get too detailed on you right now. When you write a perfect character, a Mary Sue, she stands out for the wrong reasons. Nobody believes someone could be that perfect, so it’s a disruption. It’s also boring.
I know I just did worldbuilding, but this is another reason it’s important. Everybody knows there’s no Starbucks in Westeros. When you surprise your reader with something that obviously doesn’t belong in your story’s world, it’s likely to disrupt their suspended disbelief. So, once again, you’ve got to be consistent.
It’s okay if you can’t do it all on your own
It may not be possible to spot all of the inconsistencies in your story yourself, and that’s fine. It happens. Make notes if you need to, and try to get as many sets of eyes on your story as possible before you publish. Critique partners and good beta readers are worth their weight in gold.