I’m a fiction person, which isn’t to say I don’t read the newspaper or watch the evening news, but simply that my entertainment of choice involves pretend. Add to that magical elements that sometimes creep into my own work, like the coyotes in Escape, the wishes in Three Wishes, and the herbs in Sweet Salt Air, and the willing suspension of disbelief permeates my life.
The willing suspension of disbelief. There’s a what, a why, and a where to this concept. Let’s start with the what.
The willing suspension of disbelief is what happens when we know that something is unreal, but choose to believe it anyway. As a concept, it’s been around for nearly two hundred years, but IMHO, has snowballed of late, which brings us to the why.
People like to escape, often just for fun, often when life is upsetting, as has been the recent case with global unrest and a bad economy. Some people turn to religion when times are tough. Others simply let their minds wander into a make-believe world.
The where? Television and movies. And books, which, me being me, is what I want to write about here. Take a look at any bestseller list today and you’ll find books on futuristic societies, dystopian societies, and societies with paranormal or supernatural elements. These are clearly make-believe worlds, but we ignore that for the sake of diverting our minds from personal worries.
Vampires aren’t real. But we buy into the idea that they are when we read books about them. Likewise an America divided into twelve districts, each of which sacrifices two teenagers in a fight to the death? Not real, actually pretty gruesome in a way that makes our own world look pretttty good, so we’re glued. And what about a 27-year-old Adonis with an ugly past, who drops out of college and six years later is the filthy-rich CEO of his own conglomerate – all the while amassing a wardrobe of gorgeous suits, becoming a connoisseur of fine wines, cars and boats, learning to fly a helicopter, having his nails buffed, working out, playing the piano, and having endless sex? I mean, like, how many hours are there in his day? That said, the reader who willingly suspends her disbelief (me me me) loves these books.
And those herbs I mentioned above? Sweet Salt Air is full of them. They’re super-strong in flavor, amazingly resilient in where they’ll grow, and if you use them in your cooking and serve them to someone who has been, uh, unkind to you, that person will have major heartburn.
Totally make-believe. Or is it? Can you say for sure that herbs like this don’t exist? Or that there isn’t a spiritual element in a near death-experience? Or that humans can’t communicate with coyotes?
Regarding the latter, there’s a wonderful little piece of non-fiction, The Daily Coyote, by Shreve Stockton, that you may want to read alongside Escape this summer.
So, what do you think of the willing suspension of disbelief. Do you indulge?
(BTW, the Three Wishes cover above is from a new printing, coming July 10!)