The Willing Suspension of Disbelief
by Joanne Troppello
“The willing suspension of disbelief” was first utilized by the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. If a writer can impart a human element and an aspect of truth into the story, the reader will be drawn in and willingly suspend their disbelief—and fully engage in the far-fetched tale.
Isn’t that why we read fiction novels and short stories and go to see movies?
Think about the last book you read or the last movie you went to see. Why did you read the book or see the movie? Most people read fiction or watch TV and movies for the purpose of entertainment. We want to forget about our lives for the moment and transport to another world.
Sure, as a writer, you want to get the facts straight and keep those in order so that your readers believe your words. However, when you write something fantastical or paranormal, you have more license with your story telling, provided you create a believable human element to your story.
The Human Element
The human element is the most vital aspect. It’s what the reader connects with. The reader needs to feel that connection to your characters or they won’t want to embark on the journey with them, no matter how great the storyline or setting is that you’ve created. This connection helps the readers willingly suspend their disbelief and fully immerse themselves in the world that you’ve created.
One of my favorite aspects of writing a book is to create compelling characters. I want them to captivate the readers from the moment they meet them and read the first description or first bit of dialogue. I want my characters to be three-dimensional.
Even if you have the best plot, if your characters are not compelling, your story will fall flat and leave the reader wanting more.
One-dimensional characters are only fillers. They exist as a necessary means to move certain aspects of the plot forward. For example, in my book, Mr. Shipley’s Governess, my protagonist walked to the post office to get the mail. She met a woman outside and chatted politely for a moment and then she spoke to the Postman. These one-dimensional characters were not mentioned in the rest of the novel. These characters do not experience any growth and don’t take up any significant portion of the plot. These characters are people such as waiters, taxi drivers, or others who do not have much dialogue and are only briefly seen.
When writing a short story, most of the characters are two-dimensional. Readers do not see much personal growth because these characters are only supposed to move the plot line forward. In the short story, the plot is the star, not the characters.
In a novel, the characters take center stage and it is through them that the reader is drawn into the story. Characters drive the plot. Two-dimensional characters are generally lifeless individuals that don’t see growth throughout the plotline. The difference between these characters and one-dimensional characters is that they show one personality trait or emotion. These characters have been labeled as “cardboard” characters because they have no depth
Three-dimensional characters play the central roles in the novel. They must have a past, live in the present, and look towards the future. These characters must exhibit believable emotions, even if the story line is fantastical. If the emotions are raw and real, the reader will truly bond with the characters and become totally engrossed in the story.
Especially when writing a romance novel, the writer should focus on the two main protagonists, the romantic interests. Other characters will be secondary—however, contrary to the short story, these two-dimensional characters will have to be fleshed out to some degree to make them work well in the novel. If you are writing a mystery novel, you will still have only a few (one to three) main characters, but you also need to focus on making certain your secondary characters have some depth. However, never rob your protagonists of the center stage. They are the ones that your readers will focus most attention on and rightly so.
Keep your facts straight and you’ll get points with your readers. Take time to edit your work so that grammar mistakes and misspellings do not distract your readers. Create a gripping plot that will keep your readers turning the pages. However, most of all keep the human element as the highest priority. Create compelling characters that your readers will relate to and come to call friends.
About the Author
Joanne Troppello is a published author of 3 inspirational fiction novels and the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Pandora's Box Gazette.
She has experience as a freelance writer in topics such as marketing, retail marketing, health and wellness, internet and media, travel and lifestyle, website content, app recommendations, and content for blogs.