Last night, I watched the first episode of the TV show, Alias. When the show first came out, I was 15 years old, and there were many little siblings in my house, so we didn’t ever watch it. I had always thought the show looked kind of cool, but I just never got around to watching it until last night when I saw it on Netflix.
Anyway, I could not get over how impossible the story line was. What CIA agency goes around scouting out 18 year-old scrawny girls and tells them to sign up because they match a “profile?” I don’t care if your dad is in the CIA, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that. Then, they kill her fiance because he mentions that she is a spy? Bad guys or not, I just can’t ever see that happening. If anything, they would probably have killed her first.
There were a lot of other things that didn’t make sense to me either. Small things, like, what CIA agent has time for grad school? Wouldn’t it have been extremely dangerous for her friend’s sister after Alias Girl impersonated her? Can a 110 pound girl really kick people in the head that hard? Why does no one notice that she makes so much noise when she “sneaks” around? How is an all-black bugler outfit inconspicuous, especially when you walk through a white hallway?
My own experiences with suspension of disbelief
Anyway, that got me thinking about my own suspension of disbelief story. I have been in the process of writing this one particular book since 2004. I got kind of stuck plot-wise a few years ago, and I haven’t returned to it yet. Anyway, in one scene, the main character had to stop a roomful of people from drinking this one bowl full of a magic potion-type-thing that would give them magical powers. In my head, I envisioned it like some church communions where everyone goes up and takes a small sip from a single cup. So I had my main character run up and drink the whole thing before anyone else could get to it.
When my husband read it, this is how he saw it: A guy runs to the front of the room in front of a huge vat of liquid (enough for 100 or so people to drink from). He takes about 5 minutes to drink down the massive quantities of liquid keg-style, while the 100+ people in the room stand around and watch, even though they are fully armed.
Needless to say, I pulled that part of the story. The suspension of disbelief was too great.
What you can do about it
I think that many writers don’t really consider enough details in their writing. Readers will take some things on faith, but not as many as necessary for many things in stories, like the Alias episode or my story. You really have to spend some time thinking: could this really happen? And also, what would this scene really look like? I also think it is important to have someone read your writing who has a critical eye for details to let you know when something is just too far out there. This will improve your writing and make it more believable, even if you are writing about a magical world.
How do you find ways to deal with suspension of disbelief? Have you ever abandoned a story because it was too implausible?