The Suspension of Disbelief

It’s what we all hope for from our readers. We write great stories, we set up interesting plots, we use good scene description, and provide the best character development we possibly can.

But that may not be enough.

Let’s look at this from the reader’s point of view. Actually, we’d better do that, because that point of view is, or should be, of greater importance to us than our own.

After all, it’s the reader who plunks down the hard-earned cash for our books.

People buy novels because they want to be entertained. For hours, and days, and weeks, or for really slow readers, a month or more.

They want to suspend their disbelief. They want to be able to disappear into our stories and never, ever, have to come back to their lives except to eat, or sleep, or go to work to pay their bills. Readers love to read.

They want us to do that for them. If we can succeed at that, they will buy everything we ever write. They will wait for the next book for months, and in the meantime they will scour used bookstores for anything we’ve ever written.

They will ask if they can pre-order.

Don’t write from your point of view. Look at what you write as if you are the reader. Plot and plan as you must, and agonize over every word and phrase, but look at your work as if you were the reader.

Do you give too much of the story away in your plot, do you spend way too much time on scene descriptions, and fail to give the reader the opportunity to invest in your story by building the scene in his or her mind? Are your characters behaving and speaking and thinking as real people, or are they cardboard cuts with no hopes, fears or dreams of their own?

Do they think and feel as real people do, or only as much as you allow them? Do you spend way too much of the reader’s time in lengthy explanations of this or that, or bore them to tears describing things that have no relation to the story?

Don’t write to impress the reader with the breadth of your knowledge or the depth of your understanding.

Write to entertain, to move the tale along. Write to give breadth and life to your characters, and nothing more.

The reader will do the rest.

The reader wants to become involved in the tale you tell. They want to build the scenes as they perceive them. They want to know just enough about your characters so they meet them in their own imaginary world.

Give the reader just enough information to allow him or her to build your story in their mind. Don’t try to do everything for your readers.

A well-written novel is the foundation of a partnership between the writer and the reader. That partnership will continue only as long as the writer understands that the reader is in charge.

Let them become involved, and they will support you. Happily. Disappoint them, and you might as well write for yourself, because your readership will cease to exist.


About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. He currently lives in Deland, Fl, where he is co-authoring "A Silent Star" with Tony Attanasio. "A Silent Star" is the true tale (though novelized, with names changed for security reasons) about the 4-person covert action team sent into Yemen to capture Osama Bin laden immediately after the bombing of the USS Cole in the Aden harbor in Yemen in October of 2000.
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