Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Is suspension of disbelief the responsiblity of the creator or the responsibility of the audience?

Will it be your responsibility to believe anything that you see in this movie in order to enjoy it? Or will you
rage against the director because "stuff doesn't work that way."
The term "suspension of disbelief" according to Wikipedia, is a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe something surreal. It is to sacrifice realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment. So with that definition out of the way, I want to ask all of you if you think it is the responsibility of the audience, or if it is the responsibility of the creator? In other words, is it on you to be entertained by say...a Star Wars movie...and if you are not (because it's too unbelievable) is there something wrong with you?

Many people think that once upon a time, it was the creator of the story who was supposed to suspend your disbelief. And these same people now think that audiences are expected to overlook massive plot holes for the purpose of spectacle. Just to be clear, this goes beyond fantasy and/or science fiction elements and into the territory of people performing actions that have credibility, or in the least, making decisions that have a reason behind them. And I suppose that the answer to this question is going to vary infinitely from person to person because no one is ever on the same page with anyone. This is a truth that I've learned to accept in life (maybe with a little hyperbole), but I'll explain further in the next paragraph.

We live in a functioning society, and it amazes me everyday of my life that I can say this given how many people have different views and opinions of what is true and what is acceptable. It ranges from me believing wholeheartedly in the evidence that expounds evolution through natural selection as a fact to the man sitting next to me that wants to show me images of hieroglyphics found within the Great Pyramid of Giza that depict submarines and helicopters (somehow made 4000 years ago) and who thinks "evolution is bullsh*t." For every gift of a bottle of plain water given at a work Christmas party (and the giver thought this was a fine gift when they received handmade soap or something else that clearly cost $10) to the person who is outraged that someone has used an incorrect pronoun in addressing them, I am convinced that by even having a functioning society with all of these disparate minds is a kind of miracle into and of itself. There are people who insist that the world is flat standing next to people who know it to be round, there are men who are wearing gold jewelry standing next to men who insist that they cannot wear gold because the metal poisons men but is harmless to women.

Anyway, a list of all of the things that people accept as facts (or the things that people believe in) is not what I'm getting at here in this post. Rather, it is an answer to the question of whose responsibility it is to suspend disbelief in a story. For me, it is clearly the responsibility of the audience, and here's why: how could we possibly expect a storyteller (given all the different minds and ways of seeing the world in just the above paragraph and that only scratches the surface) to suspend disbelief when what everyone believes in is different from one person to the next and so on and so forth? You can't "suspend disbelief" when you have no idea what a person even believes in. You can assume, but if you did this, you'd be completely wrong. If you made a space movie and showed the earth as round to a man that believed the earth was flat, well you've failed. Congratulations.

I guess I'd like to see what other people think of this question. Please answer in the comments below.


  1. I guess I believe it is both. An author should write a story that is totally believable, even if science/technology/religion has not completely caught up yet. I'm a firm believer in the adage that "today's science fiction is tommorow's science fact." And I'm agnostic in religious beliefs; so many gods/religious beliefs mirror each other so I cannot just believe in ONE.

    I watch The History Channel, Ancient Aliens, Discovery, Science; and a plethora of fiction TV. I am as eclectic in my reading. I'm a firm believer that you can convince me of anything if your argument is forceful enough. My mind is open.

    But many readers, and media viewers, have closed minds and only view/read what appeals to their faith, or beliefs, or personal experiences.

    I'm of the opinion that the writer/reader experience is a symbiotic relationship; but it mainly falls to the author to entice the reader. I think an author needs to write genre specific, but also keep in mind the exploratory reader. From personal experience as a reader open to new concepts, but still reading within specific genre's; the opening 2-3 chapters need to be genre specific, but not so rigid it forbids - change.

    I guess I don't really know how to explain this. The author needs to know his target audience, add a little something to draw in the explorer reader, and tie both together while satisfying the genre specifics.

    I've read and enjoyed two of your books in your series Michael. I think you do a great job appealing to your target audience of fantasy romance. The Arthurian and Urban Fantasy themes are well integrated. Its a bit overwritten, but highly entertaining, and appealing to the inquisitive mind.

    Well, after all that prattle, I think its up to the author to entice the reader. The author must write a story that makes the reader suspend belief. But no matter how good the story, some readers just can't be swayed. That is not the fault of the author. Write to your target audience and let word of mouth draw in the others.

  2. I'd also say it's a little of both. The creator has to do a good job immersing the audience in the world he's created. And in turn, the audience has to suspend it's belief a little to enjoy it. When the two meet, it works.
    Sometimes it doesn't. Earlier this year I saw a film many enjoyed, but I just didn't buy the premise - I couldn't suspend my belief - and I didn't enjoy it.

  3. I don't think an author can really suspend disbelief in his own story but not every story is meant to be realistic. The point of stories is to entertain and usually communicate some kind of lesson.

  4. I think the author has the primary responsibility. We have to be true enough to the 'reality' that we are creating so that it rings true to any reasonable mind. Even if it has magic, it still must have verisimilitude in all things within the defined parameters. We can't just throw in deus ex machinas whenever we feel like it. This was why the new Star Wars movie The Force Awakens was so poorly done. It made so many mistakes with verisimilitude that it just wasn't believable, while the original Star Wars trilogy did a pretty good job of sticking within the defined parameters.

  5. The audience bears no responsibility. To say that they do is to suggest that every person must be equally accepting of all stories.

  6. The audience has to be willing. (If you hate stories set in space, you're going to be irked with Star Wars. And that attitude will color how you perceive the movie.)

    But, the creator of the story must create something that sucks someone in so deeply that they're not spending their time looking for fault. When I go back an analyze a movie or a book, I may then see issues that don't make sense. But in the moment of being in the story, I should be immersed. And that has to do with the skill of the creator.

  7. The suspension of disbelief is definitely in the hands of the creator.

  8. Create the world and make it interesting. It should bring the audience with you.

    The one thing that does take me out of films is inaccuracy. Why make a historical movie if you are going to mess with facts? Why make a sci-fi movie if you get the science completely wrong? Audiences are willing to take a leap of faith but they will only go so far. Luckily for the writers, most people don't know the facts.

    1. All historical movies have to fudge a little. Real life is poorly paced and the dialog not very well written. 😉