Suspended Disbelief what's supposed to happen when someone reads your books, stories, work in progress, or any other kind of fiction you write.

It's a state of mind in which the reader says, "Okay, I'll forget that this hotel doesn't really exist, and for just a little while, while I read this story, I'll imagine that the place is just around the corner."

When a writer writes something like the following, no sane reader can maintain suspended disbelief.

The hotel lobby swarmed with uninvited guests. The mobster in the green suit stood out from the crowd. Under his arm, he carried a purple patent leather handbag, one given to him by his mother last year at Christmas.

He glanced at the bevy of middle-class, middle-aged members of the local readers group, before he let his gaze slide around the edges of the room, looking for the enemy. Only one young purple-haired fellow looked out of place. Rory watched the man pop a piece of bubble gum. No one to worry about.

If only...if only the group hadn't descended upon the hotel at the last minute, everything would be going great. His plans wouldn't be in total chaos.

He stepped up to the place where he had to sign-in. He didn't have much time. Upstairs, Vinny would be growing impatient, ready to shoot him with his big gun.

What reader would want to keep reading something so unrealistic?

Not me, and I'll read just about anything, including the back of the air freshener spray can.

The problems start at the beginning of this piece with the description of the mobster (who, by the way, would probably never refer to himself as a mobster). I personally don't believe mobsters wear green suits, so right away I have a hard time sticking with the story. This is regardless of the fact that mobsters really might wear green suits. As long as I don't believe it, I'll have a hard time suspending disbelief. The image of a mobster in a green suit doesn't fit my preconceived notions of what mobsters look like.

(I admit I'm picturing grass green here, so if you aren't, you might not have a hard time imagining this. And that brings me to another point: Sometimes what one reader thinks unrealistic, another reader doesn't think twice about.)

And who will believe any mobster would carry a handbag? Much less a patent leather handbag given to him by his mother? Again, not me.

As someone who rarely reads gangster/mobster books, I can't say absolutely what a mobster looks and sounds like. Many of our beliefs and preconceived notions of how other people look and behave come from television and movies. Even if you've done your research, you have to be careful not to strain your readers' beliefs. I know that sounds bad, like I'm telling you to keep propagating lies and misconceptions, but it's a fact that if you write something in a book that goes against someone's ingrained beliefs, you'll have a reader who stops reading your book. If you must include something you know is correct but goes against common conceptions, be sure to include an author's note at either the beginning or the end to explain. Really, it's that important.

Then, "[h]e stepped up to the place where he had to sign-in" implies the writer didn't even take the time to find out what you'd call the place where you'd sign in at the hotel. I must confess at this point that I don't know the name for it--registration desk, maybe? That's why I said what I said. If I were writing a story that involved a hotel, I'd have to find out.

And come on, Vinny is such a stereotypical name for a mobster. Not to insult anyone who is truly blessed with the name, but whenever I hear it I think of My Cousin Vinny, and therefore I remember Leo Getz from Lethal Weapon 2.

Here's the last point I'm going to try to make with this particular piece: I'd want to know more about the gun. What kind is it? At least tell the reader if it's a .22, a .38 Special, a Glock 9mm, or something else. Readers like details. Not too many, just enough to create vivid images of what's going on. For goodness' sake, big gun sounds like something a child would write.

Yes, I know I exaggerated this whole scenario, but the points I tried to make are still valid no matter what kind of story you write, whether it's science fiction, true crime, or romance. You must keep your readers in la-la land. They must believe everything you write. They must think you know exactly what you're talking about. Even if in reality you don't know crap about what you wrote. (That's generally not a good idea by the way, but that's another article.)

If you want people to read what you write, you've got to make sure they believe what you write.

© 2002 Terescia Harvey

Reprints are allowed, if you follow my reprint guidelines. Thanks.