Suspending Disbelief

Warning: Slight spoiler for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in bullet number 3.

Sometime in middle school (or possibly in high school), one of my English teachers told me that all writing is persuasive writing. I remember thinking that was one of the most brilliant things I had ever heard. I believed it instantly and have thought about it many times since. In much of creative writing, the idea is obviously not usually to persuade the reader of a particular point of view of opinion. But as a writer, you are primarily responsible for persuading the reader to suspend their disbelief. (I would argue that part of this responsibility is left to the reader, but only a small part.)

Suspension of disbelief is kind of a fickle thing. Does any of this sound familiar:

  • Rolling your eyes that nobody knew there was a dragon living under the castle (or some such fantastical surprise), but not at the idea that there’s a dragon to begin with?
  • Doubting that Character X would make X ridiculous decision, but not that X ridiculous decision was an option at all?
  • Feeling annoyed if there are surviving versions of some magical item (say…a time turner) when they were all supposed to be destroyed, but not annoyed that they exist in the first place (even though they are problematic)?

Things like this happen either when writers fail to be persuasive enough or when readers refuse to be persuaded.*

Aside from consistency, I don’t think I’ve quite put my finger on what allows suspension of disbelief to happen. I just know that it really bugs me when it doesn’t quite work.

What have been your experiences with suspension of disbelief?


*This, by the way, is just as relevant in other art forms–not just literature. Visual art, film, theater, even dance.


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