Suspended Disbelief

Why storytellers can’t come up with a better way to describe this key element of what they do, I don’t know, but, as clunky as it sounds, suspended disbelief is important. My friend Ryan is a pilot and an engineer, so when he sees a trailer for the Iron Man movie that depicts the hero in flight evading jets, he immediately begins calculating the fuel burn rate compared to the storage capacity of Iron Man’s armor. I don’t know what it would take to sustain that speed in a suit of armor, but I do know it’s not enough to suspend my friend’s disbelief. I have a similar problem with the new Indiana Jones movie: in the third film, Indy drank from the Holy Grail and became immortal. That kind of takes the suspense out of his next adventure, doesn’t it? Am I to believe his life is in jeopardy, or am I to believe he found the true grail? It would seem the storytellers put themselves in a bind. Without suspended disbelief, a story falls flat.

This also applies to books, of course. When my young nephew read my book Orlando and Geoffrey he went outside and attempted to replicate one of Orlando’s physical feats. He failed in the attempt, as he does not share Orlando’s physical characteristics, but up to that point his disbelief had been suspended. I recently had a similar experience, although I didn’t go so far as to attempt the actual feat. I just read Mistborn: The Final Empire, the first book in a series by Brandon Sanderson. I was impressed by the practical system of magic that Sanderson devised in Elantris, and he outdid himself with the new system employed in Mistborn. The new system, Allomancy, is based on using the properties of certain metals and their alloys to accomplish specific feats, which, though magical, still follow the laws of physics. As I read I found myself wishing I was able to Ironpull, to feel the satisfying smack of a metal object summoned into my hand. I never actually attempted it, but it was a powerful desire. Sanderson succeeded in suspending my disbelief, and for that I call him by that most magical appellation: Storyteller.

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