When I began submitting short stories, the editors bounced them back with comments such as “characters not believable” or “no suspension of disbelief.” This usually happened when I included a real-life event. I never understood why using real events didn’t work, but I found that embellishing the details helped my cause.
All fiction requires a suspension of disbelief. Basically, we’re trying to convince the reader that the characters and settings in our stories are real, and that the events depicted could happen in everyday life. In horror, fantasy, and science fiction, we’re talking about a giant suspension of disbelief.
We can convince readers our stories are believable by testing details for plausibility and proving that each event is a natural outgrowth from the one preceding it in the novel. For example, I wouldn’t have a blizzard in Florida or palm trees in Alaska, unless I prepared a foundation in my story to make that possible.
Genre fiction introduces a new world with new rules. Once you’ve set up your world and establish your rules, you have to consistently follow your rules if you want your story to be believable. For example, you can’t have a vampire shy away from religious objects in Chapter One and wear them in Chapter Five unless you’ve established a profound change in him.
One thing that I’ve struggled with is inconsistency in characters. I see this flaw in many books and movies, too. I could never understand how someone could be next to dying on television, and then two days later, back on the job. It doesn’t work that way in a real-life hospital. At least have the hero do some time in Physical Therapy.
If I’m reading a book about a hero with a phobia of heights, and by Chapter Five, he’s scampering up a ten-story building to rescue his beloved, I start to wonder. That character had better be sweating putty balls as he climbs. If he goes up the building calm and cool, that’s going to ruin my suspension of disbelief. I will probably set down the book and head for the nearest balloon store.
My Steel Rose protag has severe hand arthritis. Does she battle a monster? Of course. She has to draw on her strengths to fight. I gave her a long nap before the attack so she could stay alert and think fast. I’m not going to tell you if she survives because that’d be giving away the story.
I’m struggling with inconsistency now in my current WOP, and my writer buddies calls me on it when my protag acts out of character. That is a good critique group. One thing I’ve found helpful was using a calendar. Keeping track of the months in which events happen enables me to write the setting appropriately.
How do you deal with suspension of disbelief and consistency with your characters? I’d love to hear about your experiences.