Suspend agents’ disbelief and hook them in

During the first year of serials we had our first serious debate between writers about the phrase ‘suspended disbelief.’ I also answered a critic who slammed one of my books regarding the same subject a few months later.

From ‘Love the Critic’ – an article I posted in the Edit Lounge at

Fiction contains a certain amount of SD. I wonder how this reviewer would get on with all the totally unbelievable plots in James Bond.

What does the phrase ‘suspended disbelief’ mean? Our Asian writers might be more familiar with the subject as a lot of their wonderful stories involve spiritualism, myths, and fantasies.

I was recently reading a story that involved a magical box. The hero, a young Indian, found the box with a mirror inside that he could write on with a special pen. After writing each message they soon disappeared and another message magically appeared in its place.

You might think this is way over the top and that it’s silly and childish. But is it? If you stop to think about it, SD is part of every writer’s make-up. It’s part of our creative writing process. Look no further than Ian Fleming, a naval intelligence officer who created James Bond. Why do we still have a Bond movie produced every two years or so? We cannot believe that his exploits would actually take place in real life and yet we keep watching – why?

The stories are exciting and the plots draw us in along with memorable characters. For two hours we suspend our disbelief in the absurd motor-cycle chase across market place rooftops. The ski chase that ends with a free-fall parachute jump is breath-taking. And then, finally, Bond wrapped around the beautiful girl inside a survival pod at sea, complete with a bottle of champagne. Wow!

All of this is escapist imagery and the audience enjoy it every time. They are on the edge of their seats feeling angry with the bad guy and cheering on Bond. This works for one reason and one only and it is something an agent will feel in the pit of their stomach and see in his or her mind’s eye.

The writer has worked hard at producing a story full of great characters that are believable – and that, I believe, is the key. He or she has also written a great plot – mainly unbelievable but exciting. Now mix the two. We have characters doing things that might be super-human or plain impossible. However, because they show emotion and courage and their actions excite, the reader (agent) suspends disbelief as the characters act out the plot in a make-believe fantasy world. Agents are looking for writers who can produce work that catches the imagination and sells in today’s technological and traditional markets.

Suraya Dewing, our CEO, is a regular contributor/reviewer of books and her views are popular on Goodreads. The following example is a quote from her latest review that shows how much she feels the strength of the character whilst suspending disbelief and enjoying the plot. I found myself pausing every so often to ask why I kept reading Shaun’s gruesome tale. I realised the reason was that I found Shaun a fascinatingly complex character and in some ways, I empathised with him. Later, she writes, The thing is the author creates believable scenarios for believable circumstances and that takes real writing skill.

Science fiction is a great example of SD – look at Star Trek or The X – Files. SD is a pause button that disappears when the subject matter becomes reality. One of my heroes believed nothing was beyond our imagination

The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible. Arthur C. Clarke

There are several Sci-fi and Surreal serials at the Story Mint. Take a look and enjoy. Writing is one of the most rewarding past-times in life. Sign up for a chapter in one of our serials and become a ‘Minter’ addict.

Ray Stone

Publishing Manager