The Monopoly Money Effect: Willing Suspension of Disbelief

So I reviewed Snowpiercer a few days ago, and I was promptly greeted on Facebook by responses of friends–friends whose opinions I actually value–saying they loved the movie. (I value the opinions of all of my friends. Honestly.) And they made some good arguments for why the movie really worked for them. I considered those arguments, and I stand by my low rating of the film. I still have no desire to ever watch the movie again. But I can understand where they’re coming from. I think what happened to me in this case–and to many other reviewers of various works–is that I just wasn’t able to overcome the initial inertia of watching the movie.

What I mean by that is that anytime I sit down to watch a movie or read a book, I give that work a bit of a freebie. Think of it as the free money you get when you start to play Monopoly. But it’s not money–it’s trust. It’s me saying, “I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt.” As the work progresses, it either spends that money or earns more money. If I’m enjoying it and having a good time, it earns the money to the point where I stop thinking about it. If I’m not enjoying it, I keep eyeing that money and thinking how else I might be able to spend it.

It’s all about suspension of disbelief. Movies, books–they’re all make believe. No one’s actually fighting on a train in front of me. I’m not really going to Mordor. I’m being told a story. And I choose to believe in that story. To give it the benefit of the doubt.

Here’s a bit of a review of Vodnik that I saw the other day: “Tomas does not sound like a teenager. he sounds like an adult trying to sound like a teenager.” In this case, I’d say something happened toward the beginning of the book that made the reader doubt the voice of the novel. I didn’t capture her for whatever reason, and that was that. I don’t take it personally. Everyone has different requirements for what it costs for a work to earn money. Snowpiercer lost me as a viewer. It won over many other people. That’s how it goes.

Ideally, as a writer, my goal is to remove as many barriers as possible in the first few chapters of a book–to make it so that the reader has such a good time reading, they stop eyeing the money pile. As soon as you can get over that hump, then you’re off and running. How do I do it? I try to make the voice engaging. Hook the reader with intriguing actions or mysteries or settings. Anything to distract them from that pile. Humor, romance, villainy. Make them forget the money, and you’re golden.

But it’s Christmas. Enough with Monopoly. Let’s use sledding as an example, instead. You ever sit down on a sled, hoping for a great run, and the thing hardly moves? I hate that. That’s the inertia I’m trying to overcome as a writer. You can’t please everyone. Some people are going to sit in your sled and go nowhere. Fact of life. But if you set things up just right, your goal as a writer is for your reader to have this sort of experience:

If you can do that, you’re going places as an author.

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