Suspended Reality for the Sake of Suspense

Opposites attract. It’s an immutable law of nature. Everyone knows it. My romantic world is no different. My husband and I couldn’t be more opposite in personality and tastes if we tried, and I discover this in new ways all the time.

The most recent instance of this came when he read the first chapter of my novel, The Darkest Current. The book opens with the heroine, Amelia, diving headlong into a river because she needs to blow off some steam. This river is her solace, her “happy place”, to use modern terminology. It’s where she goes to think and collect her thoughts.

As I was writing this scene, I could smell the algae in the water, hear the rush of the rapids, feel the goosebumps because it takes place at night in early Spring. It felt appropriately vivid to me and completely believable for this character who was already fully alive in my head to be doing this. It was romantic and thrilling. Something every good Victorian heroine would do during a crisis.

My husband saw this completely differently. He read the scene and looked up at me and said, “You expect me to believe that this nineteen year old girl just dove into a river in March, at night, just because she was mad? No one does that.”

My author self wanted to yell “yes they do!” but then my reasonable self– let’s face it, the much less dominant side of me — thought, “huh. He has a point. No real person would actually do this… so why did I write it that way?”

Then, this flash of a memory took me back to a literature class in high school where I first heard the term “suspension of disbelief,” or the idea that readers are willing to temporarily separate what they know to be true and set that aside for the sake of the story. This is done for a number of reasons — it’s more romantic, more dramatic, more fantastic, etc.,

This then, is why I wrote the scene the way I did. It’s so much more fun to read about a girl throwing her boots aside on a log and diving into a river still wearing her dinner gown than it is to be told, “she was angry, so she paced in the hallway for several minutes.” At least, it is for me.

But for some readers, (I would argue probably half the population), these leaps away from reality for the sake of the tale just pull them out of the story altogether. They’re distracted by the unreliability of it all. This isn’t wrong by any means. It just means that they prefer a more realistic style of writing. They exhibit a more scientific and analytical approach to reading. And to be sure, there are some amazing writers out there who cater to this preference, and do it brilliantly.

Unfortunately for my husband, I’m not one of them.

The Darkest Current is now available for purchase!


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