I write (and read) fantasy, which is perhaps the most obviously “made-up” of fiction genres, and suspension of disbelief is key to spinning a successful fantasy tale.
Suspension of disbelief can perhaps be summed up as ‘don’t allow a little reality to get in the way of a good story’, but it’s more subtle than that. From my experience, fiction contains big lies and little lies and strangely enough, it’s the little lies that trip up a reader (well, if that reader’s me, it does) and cause disbelief to come crashing back and destroy the writer’s hard work.
A couple of examples: in the first episode of the BBC’s Merlin (set in some kind of medieval-ish Arthurian Britain), our young wizard spends time in the stocks being pelted with rotting veg. He also spends a while hearing the disembodied voice of a dragon and then speaking to said dragon in the flesh. The BBC received far more complaints about anachronistic tomatoes being used in the stocks scene than it did over the existence of a TALKING DRAGON.
Or take the current series of Doctor Who (please, take it away and bring it back when you have some credible storylines which ENTERTAIN). Space travel, time travel, monsters and aliens are all fine by me. What I can’t accept is that Clara gets left in modern Britain for two weeks and becomes a teacher with a permanent job. Criminal records check, anyone? Even if she had a stack of psychic paper there’s still a recruitment process to go through. We might be short of teachers in some areas, but I don’t think we’re yet so desperate that people can walk in off the street and be allowed responsibility for our children.
And the thing is, it’s sloppy. Whatever fiction you write, you need to check your facts. So check your facts, and if they’re wrong, change them. The good thing about little lies is that they usually aren’t integral to the story (Merlin could be pelted with squashy apples; Clara could have become a waitress at a corner cafe) so they’re easy to adjust.
Big lies are part of the contract of fantasy. They’re the dragons and aliens and paradoxical time machines which are needed to capture your reader’s imagination and sweep them into your fictional world. Little lies, on the other hand, are little traps for unwary writers which can catapult your readers back to reality.
Do you agree? Do you struggle with big or little lies in the books you read or write, or can you suspend disbelief to Olympic level?