In this post, we write about how readers need to buy into your story by suspending disbelief and we give you three tips to keep your reader hooked.
I have been reviewing books for about a year and a half now, and it has been interesting to see what I like and don’t like in a book. A big deal-breaker for me is when a book requires too much suspension of disbelief.
Suspension of disbelief can be defined as ‘the semi-conscious decision in which you put aside your disbelief and accept the premise as being real for the duration of the story.’ Instead of the disbelief you would normally experience when faced with something that isn’t real, you choose to suspend that disbelief.
When an author stretches our willingness to do this to the extent that we feel betrayed, we give in to disbelief. At this point, I feel like throwing the book across the room.
Walking a tightrope
In our Writers Write course, we encourage writers to create characters that are larger than life. Their lives have to be more vivid than readers’ lives, or they won’t capture readers’ interest. Even when characters are intentionally dull and boring, they must be extraordinary in how dull and boring they are.
In doing this, the writer walks a tightrope. Characters need to be larger than life, but not be someone or do something that would make the reader say, ‘That’s so unrealistic. I’m outta here.’
How do you, as writer, keep that balance?
3 Tips To Keep Your Reader Hooked
There are three simple tools you can use to keep readers willing to go along with your story.
1. Use simple language.
Every time your reader has to exit the story world you’ve created because of an unrecognisable word, you put strain on the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief. It’s jarring, much like popping your car into third gear on the highway. It doesn’t mean you can’t create beautiful sentences. Just don’t be so taken with your own vocabulary that you make it difficult for the reader to experience the world you’ve created.
2. Maintain internal consistency.
Confession time. My husband and I are total Trekkies. In fact, we love all things sci-fi. Occasionally, he laments the fact that a sci-fi movie wasn’t plausible. Of course, I find the irony delightful, because nothing calls for the suspension of disbelief like an alien with three heads. Yet, we happily do it.
The reason? It doesn’t matter how weird a story is, it remains believable as long as it is internally consistent. The moment you lose internal consistency, you lose the reader. Think of continuity errors in a film that sabotage its credibility. Never let ‘em see the zip in the back of the alien costume, folks.
[Read: 101 Sci-Fi Tropes For Writers]
3. Create flawed characters.
Some genres are more lenient when it comes to having a ‘superhero’ character. This kind of character can intercept and decipher encrypted messages, single-handedly track down the evil leader of a crime syndicate, kill all 48 of his bodyguards while only sustaining flesh wounds, defuse a nuclear bomb in 30 seconds, and save the world by killing said leader.
Readers tend to be okay with this … to a point. If he also does his taxes on time, donates to charity, is a brilliant kisser, and can roast a leg of lamb, you’ll lose them.
Create plausible characters whose traits and reactions line up with each other. Let your character smoke, despite the fact that his mother died of lung cancer. Let him forget to feed the cat. Give him scars that don’t look cool.
Here’s to keeping it as real as one can in fiction. Happy writing!
by Donna Radley