Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Suspension bridge

There is a saying: “We must suspend our disbelief to be entertained.” If you haven’t heard it, it’s the idea that when we read a book, or watch a play or a movie, we have to put certain beliefs “on hold” to enjoy, and possibly understand, the work.

Case in point: One of the most popular movies of all time is The Avengers which came out in 2012. Overall, it was a critical and financial success. Yet, how many of the people who watched the movie honestly believe there are aliens that could attack the Earth? Or believe a man who turns into a giant green monster when he gets mad? Or so on and so on. . . My bet is that those who believe these elements were possible are in the vast (and I mean VAST!) minority.

So, for the rest of us, how could we enjoy something so much that we inherently don’t believe could happen? Now you understand the idea of “We must suspend our disbelief to be entertained.”

We were debating this concept in a recent class. I stated that as a story maker, I had to be aware that people have different beliefs and so depending on the subject matter, some people will have a harder time suspending their disbelief than others. A fellow classmate disagreed. She said, “When you say that we all have different beliefs, I find that I must disagree. I suppose you are right on the surface of things, but if you go a little deeper there are things that most of us have in common that can be used by the storyteller to promote the suspension of disbelief.”

First of all, I’m going to state that her comment was a bit, well, pompous. When I got over my initial frustration, I tried to consider what she said, and found some merit to it.

And then I realized something: my experience with her statement actually supports my claim.

Let me explain.

My first reaction was a negative experience. It went against my beliefs. After all, she disagreed with me. And doesn’t her statement of “When you say that we all have different beliefs, I find that I must disagree” kind of prove we have different beliefs?

Since this was for a class, I was compelled to read on, though I didn’t want to. She went on to make some good points, but I had to suspend my initial disbelief of her first statement to get to it.

And that was the point of my paper of the class. As a story maker, you have to be aware that people have different beliefs and so one way to help ease them into suspending them is to start with the familiar—and then move to something that may be unfamiliar, and possibly unbelievable. It’s like a bridge.

Sometimes, it doesn’t have to take long. For example, in Star Wars IV: A New Hope before we see the rebel starship being attacked by the imperial star destroyer, we are shown a field of stars and the rim of a planet. It sets the scene in a relatable way—people are familiar with a night sky and planets. If the scene, instead, opened with a pink background with purple polka dots, I doubt people would have been as willing to suspend their collective disbeliefs.

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