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Friday, September 03, 2010

Suspending My Disbelief

A writer cannot make every reader happy. Occasionally, an author will write something that rubs a reader the wrong way.
I was clipping the hedges the other day when I remembered a scene in a novel I read many years ago where the heroine was also clipping hedges. The book was written by a very well-known novelist who has sold a gazillion books. I had loved the first book of hers that I read--so I got another one. However, in the second one, the heroine's situation annoyed me a bit. To me, it seemed unrealistic. But I come from humble beginnings. What do I know about the lives of the rich and famous? Only what I read in the gossip papers or see on television. Nevertheless, the plot held together and I finished the book.

I bought a third book by the same author. I frowned when I reached the part of the story where the heroine goes outside to clip hedges. It wasn't a long drawn out episode. It was a simple reaction scene which allowed the character to reflect and share her thoughts with the reader.

Unfortunately, the reader happened to be me--a woman who regularly battles bushes and fears that someday the bushes might win. The scene completely shattered my concentration. I just could not believe for one moment that the author had ever held a pair of hedge shears in her hands. Of course, it was entirely possible for the character in the book to be involved with clipping those hedges. But I was not thinking of the character. I was thinking of the author.

It was an unfair reaction on my part, but that's what happened. For me, the experience of reading that particular book was ruined. My response does not mean the author was not a good writer--after all, she's sold a lot of books over the years! For me, she simply happened to hit on a raw nerve.

To read a book, every reader must suspend their disbelief and accept the world within the novel. What happens in the story does not have to be real--otherwise we would not have Harry Potter and Twilight. However, all events should seem plausible given the boundaries established by the author.

I've written stories that could never realistically occur--genuine fantasies with lots of paranormal magical stuff. Tadeusz in The Beast of Blackbirch Manor was cursed by a witch and is going to turn into a wolf on his thirty-third birthday unless he finds a woman who loves him. Evidently, readers are willing to suspend their disbelief in reading that book because it's been very popular.

But Tadeusz isn't clipping any hedges in that novel. He's got gardeners to do that job. :^)


Irene said...

I bet there are more people out in the world who do not know how to clip hedges than those who do.
Me, for instance.
I'm more into weeding.
But perhaps you couldn't suspend your disbelief because you were just too close to this one aspect of life. It's easier to imagine an unreality than to suffer through something you've actually done. Easier to believe in magic than have to relive the pain of childbirth, say.
Shrug it off. Pity the author who has never actually clipped hedges if you must, but keep on reading, Penny!

Penelope Marzec said...

I usually finish every book I open, there are very few exceptions and I can count them on one hand. (Hint: I don't go in for deep psychological stuff.)

But, yes, I think I was simply too close to that one particular aspect of the book.

Celeste said...

I understand that happening. I've been jolted like that and couldn't get back in the mood. Forgive and put effort into writing by doing when you can.