Impossible to Believe or Improbable it Would Happen?

Welcome to my world, dear reader. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. But, most of all, believe. This is my wish and the wish of all fiction writers – for you to believe. If the truth be told, however, many fail to achieve it.

In all works of fiction you are often expected to believe the impossible. This is especially true in horror, fantasy and sci-fi, because as well as being asked to believe in creatures that don’t exist, you are also being asked to stray from the path; to venture into the dark woods; to cross over the threshold into another world – into my world; into my mind and to trust that I will lead you safely through.

In asking this, am I asking you to suspend your disbelief or to believe in a secondary reality?

Suspension of disbelief was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817. He said that if a writer could infuse a ‘human interest and a semblance of truth’ into a fantastic tale, then the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative (1).

In other words, you are asked to ignore what is real in everyday life and ‘accept’ as real, for the duration of the book/story/film/TV show, what is told in the story.

In CSI, for example, you are asked to believe that forensic results are almost instantaneous and that the CSIs themselves investigate all aspects of a crime. In reality, neither of these is true.

In vampire stories, you are asked to accept that vampires are immortal and do not age. In reality, both these things are impossible. The existence of vampires, however? Well, history has linked vampirism to both anaemia and porphyria, due to similarities between the conditions. I’ll leave it to you, as to what you choose to believe.

So, why is suspension of disbelief important? I believe it is because fiction is read  for escapism; to experience the thrills and fears you wouldn’t encounter in your everyday life; to put yourself in danger, knowing no real harm can come to you. If fictional stories became too ‘accurate’, shall we say, then you would get bored and put the book down/change the channel. Using CSI as an example again, if the show made you wait the several months it usually takes to get most forensic results, would you still watch it? Probably not, as the pace and the story would be too slow and would not pique your interest. If you want reality, watch the news or read non-fiction.

If you want to read fiction, however, be prepared to believe the impossible; be prepared to face your fears and trust the author will see you through safely…….or not……for this is the thrill of fiction, especially horror and fantasy – you just don’t know.

So I ask you, dear reader, to believe the impossible.

JRR Tolkien, in his essay ‘On Fairy Stories’, refers to the reader accepting and stepping into a secondary reality. He said that for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the ‘secondary reality’ of the fictional world. By creating an internally consistent fictional world, the author makes secondary belief possible. Tolkien argued that suspension of disbelief is only necessary when the work has failed to create the secondary belief (1). Why? Because the spell is broken and so the reader is left with two choices – either to make a conscious effort to suspend disbelief or to put the story down and walk away.

Personally, I lean towards Tolkien’s viewpoint. For me, as a reader/viewer, I must be able to believe in the world that has been created in a story. Only then can I can accept, as the law, what happens within that world.

Expecting you, dear reader, to believe the impossible is one thing, but then creating an improbable storyline/character/scenario within that world, is quite another. Even within a secondary reality, the story needs to be believable and probable.

Making it believable involves many things, but, in essence, it is about making up rules for your reality and sticking to them, ensuring consistency. It is about making characters in your secondary reality real, by giving them a life; a history; a personality; motivations and feelings.

In BONDS, I may not ask you to step into an alternate reality as Tolkien does in Lord of the Rings, but I do ask you to step into a secondary reality. A reality where witches, warlocks and vampires exist and where the impact of their actions is all too real.

How can I convince you, though, to believe? How can I encourage you to accept that Antony Cardover is a vampire, seeking to break the curse placed on him by a deceitful warlock?

I have to make him ‘real’ for you. I have to evoke your sympathy or your disdain for him. I have to make you believe that, no matter how flawed he may be (as most of us are), in my reality, he is real. How do I do this? I show you his life; his personality; what people think of him; his weakness; his motivation; his naivety; his despair; his anger; his need to have his life back. In other words, I give him life. I create a three dimensional person who you believe can exist in the world I have created.

The key, dear reader, is to imagine you are actually there; to imagine you are Antony Cardover or Becca Martin; to imagine that this is your reality, your nightmare. Only then can you truly believe the impossible.

But beware, dear reader, for you risk blurring the line between the worlds and living in a realm where anything is possible; a land where vampires stalk and werewolves hunt; a reality where ghosts wander and zombies roam; a place where witches protect and warlocks curse; a world where what is real becomes less about what you know and see and more about how you feel and respond. Consider, therefore, dear reader, what you would do…

In the dark of night, would you take the short cut through the cemetery to avoid being late or would you stick to the well lit path?

On the night of the full moon, would you choose to stray from the time served path, knowing it is quicker, or would you follow the advice you’d been given?

As the fog hangs thickly along the cobbled path, the gloom barely brightened by the lone street light, would you carry on passed the silhouetted presence of a stranger who stands in the shadows?

On a rain sodden walk, as the weather closes in and night approaches, would you seek refuge in the dilapidated house where a solitary candle burns in an attic window?

A mind grounded in realism wouldn’t give any of this a second thought, but a mind willing and able to suspend disbelief; to step into that secondary reality? Surely that mind would pause, even if only for a moment, and ask ‘what if…..?’

May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

Til next time.