Working with Suspension of Disbelief: Vodnik Chapter Twenty-Eight

I spent a lot of time in this book trying to make it as realistic as possible. That might sound like a strange way to talk about a book where vodniks and vilas exist, but what I mean is that I did a fair bit of research to make sure everything that *could* be realistic, was. For example, I wanted to describe the hospital correctly. The geography of Trencin had to be true to life. In this chapter, Tomas’s father researches how to find a grave in Slovakia. The results he gets are actually the results you would get.

While I do think a lot of this attention to detail paid off in the long run by making the book as a whole feel more tangible, I wonder now and then if being too concerned with this can be a bad thing. Allow me to explain.

I’m a big Mythbusters fan. I enjoy watching the show, and some of my favorite episodes are the ones where they put movie scenes to the test. Could Hellboy really punch a car to stop it? Can you stealthily climb through air-conditioning vents to break into a room? That kind of thing. And it should come as no huge surprise that most of the time, Hollywood gets it wrong. And yes, part of me is disappointed by this trend, but a larger part of me just doesn’t care.

So you can’t stealthily crawl through vents. So what? When I watched Mission: Impossible, and they do that–and I knew they *couldn’t* do that–did it spoil the movie for me? Nope. Still enjoyed it. Still kept watching. Still had a good time.

Willing suspension of disbelief is a powerful thing. As long as you stay within the bounds of the non-ridiculous, audiences are ready and able to buy a whole lot of things that wouldn’t necessarily really happen. That’s something I have a hard time remembering. So when Hellboy punches that car and it flips over his head and comes to a smashing stop, I don’t watch it and say, “Yeah right.” I watch it and say “Cool.” I’ve already bought into the fact that it’s possible there’s a huge demon wandering the streets of the city. Am I really going to freak out because the laws of physics aren’t followed to a tee?

Yes and no, I think.

On the one hand, if something happens that clearly violates the laws of physics, then I’m going to have serious issues. If somebody magically jumps 100 feet in the air–and there isn’t an in-world explanation for how that happened–then that’s trouble.

But if it’s explained, then we’re good to go. Sneaking around AC vents makes sense. They’re a Way In, and since I don’t have a lot of experience with them, I buy that they theoretically could be used in that manner. Knowing that they can’t (via Mythbusters) doesn’t automatically invalidate the approach. Because–hey, what do I know? Maybe the Mythbusters suck at AC vent crawling. Maybe it’s a skill you can perfect with practice. Maybe there’s a whole level of zen thing with AC vent crawling. Who knows?

A big trick to writing well is knowing what you can get away with and what you can’t. In linguistics, this is referred to as “play.” Think of it like the amount of give a steering wheel has. You can jiggle it back and forth a bit without causing the car to veer off course. That’s the play. Suspension of disbelief has some play to it, too. Work within those confines, and you’re golden. Step outside them . . . and you’re in trouble.

Looking back on it, maybe I didn’t need to be so so focused on everything being just perfect in Vodnik. What are the odds of anyone realizing that the time table is off on the trip into town or down to Bratislava? Slim to none. And would it be book-breaking if they did notice? Probably not. Then again, I still managed to pull it all off and keep it (more or less) reality-based, so what was the harm?

This is something I’m still learning as I go along. Test readers are vital to figuring this out. You might think as an author that you pulled off some epic feat of plot gymnastics, only to have your readers pull the emergency brake on you and call foul. What works in my head might not work on paper. Trial and error–all that fun stuff.

Anyway. That’s what this chapter reminded me of this week. Thanks for reading!

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