Title: The Baboon Jumped Through the Window
Subtitle: Suspending Disbelief
by Lynn Crandall
Have you ever listened to young children make up stories as they tell them? If so, then you know that the child’s story can take improbable twists and turns that can make the listener feel like, “Wow! Really? And then a baboon jumped through the bedroom window and stole Jimmy’s homework?” If the child is asked, “Where did the baboon come from?” he’s likely to say, “The trees.” It doesn’t really matter that the baboon in the story doesn’t fit or that there is no attempt to support the concept of a roaming baboon, because the story is just fun for the child to create ad hoc. He doesn’t worry about a contrived plot device.
We authors can’t and shouldn’t get away with such things in our writing. When a reader picks up a book to read, they come to the experience with willingness to accept the plot, the characterization, the setting that is on the pages. But whether we’re writing fantasy, paranormal, science fiction, or traditional romance, we have to offer writing that is capable of suspending disbelief.
I think of suspension of belief as something that is woven throughout the story with multiple elements. One strand I consider is the global experience. Story elements writers include in their work come from someplace, but one thing we can tap into is the commonality of the human experience. We all experience loss, love, joy, sorrow, fear, stress, and much more. The circumstances differ, but the collective consciousness phenomenon means we writers can tap into the fundamental emotions we all encounter. We can create a plot in which a witch fears discovery. Maybe in the story she tried to help someone with her special abilities and it didn’t go well. Her good intentions may put her life in serious jeopardy. Her predicament will resonate in some way with readers’ own life experiences, making them amenable to the story’s fantastical elements.
Still, commonality won’t sustain the suspension of disbelief if the story’s ground rules, another strand, haven’t been established effectively. In a contemporary romance, the ground rules are primarily those we all understand. This means things like, if you drop something it will fall because of gravity, or if you cut someone, his or her wound will bleed. The reader knows the ground rules and expects certain things. But ground rules matter in all fiction. The ground rules affect characterization and plot. If it’s established from the beginning of a story that the characters and the world they live in abide by certain ground rules, the reader will follow effortlessly and enjoy the story. There can be embodied spirits who do many things in physical reality, but they have to make sense in the context of the comprehensive ground rules.
Another important strand to suspension of belief, to sustaining the belief throughout character choices and interactions all the way to the satisfying resolution is the quality of the mechanics. These simple problems can give readers a reason not to believe.
Typos: Let slip an uncorrected typo and be sure your readers will find it, stop reading, and question the value in continuing.
Adverbs: An abundance of adverbs will wear out your reader. This frequently is a problem with tags. For example, “Mrs. Malcom, you have stepped on my toe,” Aunt Susie said indignantly. Do this kind of thing over and over and over and kiss suspension of disbelief goodbye.
Overuse of clichés: You know them. We all use them. But the use, especially overuse of them will make your readers’ faith in the story flip and flop like a fish out of water.
Absurd plot device: If suddenly in chapter thirteen the heroine leaps in front of a gunman to protect the hero and she doesn’t get hurt or die because, unbeknownst to anyone reading the story, she’s made of steel, your readers will most likely fling your book across the room. The heroine rescues the hero with an absurd plot device and that’s not believable.
Unnecessary tags: Back to tags. Tags slow done the pace of a story. They can water down the power of your story. Use them concisely or your reader may give up suspension of disbelief. A simple, “he said” will get the job done when it’s needed. But action is active and doesn’t require a tag. “Mary Jane, why are you looking out the window,” Penny asked angrily. Or: Penny marched across the room and grabbed Mary Jane’s chin between her finger and thumb. “Why are you looking out the window, Mary Jane?”
When writers provide ground rules and stick to them consistently as well as abstain from giving readers reasons to lose faith, they can suspend disbelief and sustain it throughout the story.
The presence of a ghost in her life doesn’t alarm Lacy Aegar, in fact it makes her happy. Two and a half years ago when her dead husband Nicholas reappeared in her life as a full-bodied spirit, she questioned her sanity. But with Nicholas’ explanation that there are things about life that are not as she’s always believed, she settled into a pleasant routine of working with her sister at their private investigation business and enjoying home life with her now 10-year-old son – with Nicholas never very far away.
Lacey’s complacency and sense of stability is sent topsy-turvy when she runs into Jackson Carter, the son of powerful and influential business tycoon, William Carter. Typical of the Carter reputation, Jackson’s slick new private investigating business is siphoning off clients from the Aegar sisters’ business, creating financial difficulty. It’s a recurring nightmare for Lacey, who has already seen damage done by the Carter family, and when she encounters Jackson, she wants nothing to do with him.
But things are not what they seem when it comes to Jackson Carter, either. Unbeknownst to Lacey and her sister, Jackson is fighting a battle to preserve his business, too, and his integrity. For him, it’s a fight for his soul, and he enlists Lacey’s help because of her unique investigative skills and open heart. When she uncovers a mole in his business, she also discovers that one of his clients’ drug trials has been given the green light to go to the next phase based on falsified data. As they work together to save both their businesses, Jackson and Lacey not only face death, they must come to grips with their feelings about love and life.
More About the Author
Lynn Crandall lives in the Midwest and writes in the company of her two cats. She has been a reader and a writer all her life. Her background is in journalism, but whether writing a magazine or newspaper story or creating a romance, she loves the power stories hold to transport, inspire, and uplift. In her romances, she focuses on vulnerable, embraceable characters who don’t back down. She hopes that readers discover, over and over, stories of ordinary people who face ordinary life challenges and are transformed by extraordinary love.