Southern belle with a story to tell. Refreshing iced tea served after literary punches thrown.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nefarious plots, villains & heroes & the suspension of disbelief!

Okay, I had to write this post after just watching The Dark Knight Rises.

And yea, I know it's a superhero movie, which means we're to check our suspension of disbelief as a viewer at the door as soon as we walk into the theater or open the book, but seriously, at some point your brain wakes up and screams, "This simply can't be happening!  I've paid good money for this and you want me to believe this load of bull-puckey?"

Then that same little nagging voice says to you that although this is pretty good, that although the character arcs are decent, the plot can simply never ever really happen in real life, and it is at that precise moment that the viewer or reader is forever lost.

For me, that particular moment came when Bane, the super-villain revealed his over-reaching goals and takes over Gotham City and holds its citizens hostage.  Now I understand Gotham is supposed to be part of the U.S.A., but seriously, would America let a massive city the size of New York fall to a crappy terrorist wearing a stupid mask?  I think not.

Suspension of disbelief is the norm in fantasy worlds where evil overlords like Darth rule the galaxy.
And from that moment forward I began to look for more flaws and the movie meant less to me.  Granted the ending was decent, with the self-sacrifice of the m.c., but the absolute best part was the insertion of an excerpt from a truly great novel and old film (A TALE OF TWO CITIES) during Batman's funeral scene.  Only then could the emotion flow, and it was due to borrowed words .

You see, my thoughts on suspension of disbelief are subtle.  I want to believe throughout the whole film or book that the plot could happen.  Could is the operative word here folks.  This imho, applies to almost every genre except perhaps high fantasy where the story world is completely fictional (think DUNE).

But the whole story concept actually exposed to me an even bigger flaw and another error that I must recognize as a writer, and that was the fact the main character, the dark dude himself~ Batman, is confined to Gotham City.  It's like a prison without walls for the masked marauder who rarely leaves Gotham (except in this film where he really leaves Gotham and is sent to a prison.)

However I hope that the screenwriters will realize this flaw and have him break out of his little Gotham-cocoon and interact with the rest of the world, because if Batman is released into  the world, then the wilder plots can be embraced, thus giving suspension of disbelief a little nod.  A small token of writerly respect, if you will, and maybe a tip from a Bond villain might exemplify this concept.

I always wanted to rename Blofeld "CrazyEye".
So if you've got a dastardly dude, the ultimate bad guy, and he wants to take over the world, then what do you do with your main character?  Give the main character the world (or even the universe perhaps) as their playground!

But know how far to take things...or else you end up with this kind of scene.  Know where to draw the line between fact, fiction.

So what did we learn today?  

  1. We must artistically harness the power of the suspension of disbelief, but respect that power in knowing where to draw the line. Don't take the power for granted. 
  2. Create characters who can move about freely in a story world.  Freeing the character gives the writer more wiggle room and larger scope.  Allows us more leniency in the area of suspension of disbelief.
  3. When we give the aura to our readers that the plot could indeed happen somehow, we give them room for thought and for discussion.  That creates fans and readers.  We want both.
So in wrapping up, remember when people leave a theater or read the last paragraph of a book, we want them to be talking about the subject matter of the book.   We want them to be in awe of the experience they just had.  We don't want them to feel cheated out of the cost of a movie ticket or Kindle download.  We want them to be telling their friends how amazing their experience was, and that it could happen in the real world.  In the end, this creates what is known as a fan or a reader.

A good book or film that respects the notion of suspense of disbelief will be the one that's talked about nonstop around thousands of water coolers the next Monday morning after it's release.

Respect this subtle power and we create art.

It's the simple stuff that we must keep in mind when writing, and while I'm guilty of this, I definitely plan to learn from my mistakes.

So take it from a friend, when writing we need to keep that simple concept of suspension of disbelief carefully in check.  But don't give up hope if your manuscript's antagonist, an evil villain that plans on taking over the world, that can be okay.  He or she need not be written out or the entire story scrapped, but what it does mean is you should weave in ways the plot could actually happen.

Later on here we'll talk about the insertion of info-fauxmation (what I like to call fake but plausible information) to make your subtle twists in plot blur the line between fact and fiction to make your story plausible, but for now we're just going to respect suspension of disbelief.

 Let's hear from you:

What elements in your manuscript make the reader/audience engage in suspension of disbelief?  But be careful in answering this last question folks, because it's the most disgusting, jagged little pill as a writer you'll ever swallow, but tell me how and why your reader be able to move past the point of no return in the plot, where they must decide if they can truly believe what you've written and keep turning pages?


T.J. said...

Great blog! Even better points.

For me it is keeping the characters real. Every villain has a reason. While I work with the inflated egos of mythological gods, even in ancient times they were portrayed with human traits. I also let everybody make stupid mistakes. Falling down, losing a fight, surprise endings. Current MC is a klutz. Like me, she literally falls out of bed in the morning. Trips over her own feet. Eats like a frat boy on Sunday morning. Each of the immortals also have their fallacies rooted in something a reader can identify with.

Include traveling with several areas of the US described.

And while the bad guys do try to take over, even the big scenes are hit with MC/BG mistakes.

Kathryn Patterson said...

I must admit, I felt a bit like you did when Bane reveals his Grand Scheme. I'm not certain if the government would roll over, but the threat of a giant bomb would make everyone take one step backwards and go, "Okay, let's talk about this." I think that Bane was betting on stalling only until the bomb went off, which no one outside of Gotham knew was going to happen.

But I definitely agree that when a story goes beyond the suspend of disbelief, it loses readers or watchers. I think a good story stays on the proper side of the line, because it is just too hard to get someone back.

As for what I do... well, I do a lot of research before I write about a subject that I am not extremely familiar with. As a programmer and general geek, I find it annoying when a story contains misinformation about computers, the Internet, technology, or any other subject that a geek knows and loves. So I try to not do that to other people. I read up on the CDC website before I wrote about the CDC arriving on the scene in my novel.

Does that make sense?


Joey Francisco said...

@TJ: Love your approach to the gods! Giving them somewhat fallible traits is important so we can relate to the character better.

@Kathryn: My inlaws used to do research at the CDC/Emory back in the day. We pass it by many times when we're going down to the VA Highlands. It's such a cool, imposing complex. My hubs also went to Emory, but to him he's used to seeing the complex. But to me? Simply awesome. Mere sight of it can give you wild writing ideas!