What is, and Isn’t, Suspension of Disbelief?

I recently got into an online discussion about Suspension of Disbelief in SFF and how to achieve it.  I really ought not to get into such discussions, as there is always someone who says something that tweaks me the wrong way.  Well, I guess I will never learn.

The discussion started out well enough, but there was one fellow who, no matter how it was explained, just didn’t get it.  Only after reading several of his posts did I finally figure out that he had totally missed the point.  Now you have to understand, this is a discussion among writers of SFF, so no wonder I was baffled.  This person was under the impression that Suspension of Disbelief was the author’s attempt to suspend the disbelief of the reader, not as to what was possible within the story, but what was possible in the real world.  I was dumbstruck… or probably dumberstruck, if that’s a word…  How could anyone who wrote fiction not understand the concept?

Unfortunately, I tried to explain it, and that was when the fight started…

Suffice it to say, I stated my case and shut up.  You cannot convince certain people of facts, regardless of the proof you lay before them.  It is best to stay civil and state your case, then bow out…  Okay, I did that, but here and now I’m going to state my concerns on what I felt was inherently wrong with this person’s thinking.

How can anyone profess to be a writer, and not wish to put dreams into peoples’ minds?  How can you not wish to entertain with the impossible, much as a stage magician, and convince the observer that what you have just pulled off is real, if only here and now, only for this moment?  How can you deny imagination, and its capacity for discovery, for wonder and for love?  If you close your minds to the impossible, not in the real world, but in stories, you have forever killed the child within yourself.  You have become something hollow and without the capacity for true thought.

As a scientist of twenty years, I cannot imagine that the truly wondrous minds of our time, the ones who gave us such wonderful theories and inventions that apply to our everyday lives, did not have imaginations that could wander outside the lines of reality from time to time.  So much of science fiction, and even fantasy, has stimulated great minds to think outside the box, to stretch the boundaries of reality, to create new realities…  How can you deny the value of such a wonderful tool?

So believe, of only for a moment, that a boy can fly, that a man can fall in love with a ghost, that a woman can summon a Pegasus and that a robot can fall in love…

In my humble opinion, if you cannot do these things between page one and the epilogue, you have no business ever putting your fingers on a keyboard and calling yourself an author.


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