Monday, December 14, 2009

A Few Notes About The Willing Suspension of Disbelief


I don't really like to give writing advice. I love to write about writing; I love to discuss my process and the experiences I have while writing, but I shy away from giving advice, because I don't really think I'm at the point where my advice on writing is valid (I'm a little more free with writing business advice. It isn't that I lack confidence as a writer; it is more that I'm still in a mode of self-discovery and not one where I believe I have real wisdom to impart. I write and I can usually tell where it works, but that doesn't mean I can tell you how to figure out what will work for you. The following blog isn't writing advice, really, but more the sharing of a flash of insight that may or may not help you if you are interested in writing stories.

And it is all true!

I came home the other day and the rest of my family was out, hopefully tracking down the seventy-three items on my Christmas list (I've been nice, not naughty). I filled up a cup with ice and my favorite caffeine-laden soft drink, walked into the living room and picked up the new Stephen King novel (lifting with my legs and not my back) and sat down for what I hoped would be at least fifteen minutes of reading bliss. I saw an envelope addressed to my son on the coffee table, a folded letter beside it. I read the letter and then began to dance around the room, hooting and whooping wildly, so much so that Starro the Conqueror (my beagle) joined in on the festivities.

This is the letter:

I read the letter the second time, and then ran to the computer to scan it in as a jpeg and then email it to a friend of mine. This was going to be the best Christmas ever! Seats on the floor, the week before Christmas! Kevin Garnett! Paul Pierce! 'Sheed! Rajon flippin' Rondo! With the money I saved on the tickets, I was going to buy official Celtics gear for all!

Then I read the letter a little more closely.

I started to think that it was a little odd that the company sponsoring the ticket giveaway wasn't mentioned. I mean, sure, Cormac had purchased a "western cap gun" (yeah, I know. Shame on me for allowing him to have toy weaponry. With explosives, no less. Shoot me), but it seemed odd that the makers of "western cap gun" weren't given any credit. You'd think after selling a 100,000,000 units (that's a lot of western cap guns) they would be a little more on the ball. Of course, the letterhead looked a little strange, and I was surprised they didn't have the NBA logo or any trademarks beyond the big leprechaun. And the signatures did look a little similar in places, but I figured that was probably because they had two or three college interns forge them all.

And then I noticed the phone number only had seven digits.

Visions of high-fiving Ray Allen after getting fouled on a three pointer (and maybe,just maybe, being called from the bench to take his place if he was injured)faded instantly from my mind. Someone was a scam artist. Someone had taken the time to pull a diabolical scam, an insidious prank. Someone had broken the heart of a little boy just before Christmas (my son's, too, I guess). I sent an angry email of retraction to my friend, along with a solemn oath to find whoever it was that hoodwinked my son. And when I found them, I vowed, i would make them pay.

As I sat there fuming, I thought of just how the insidious document had sucked me into it's web of deceit. Someone must have known what a huge basketball fan I was, of the Celtics in particular, and must have assumed (rightly) that my son would by proxy be a fan as well.

My family came home a half hour or so later (a half hour that I could have spent reading pages 11,045-11,082 in the Stephen King book). I met them in the kitchen. clutching the letter.

"Did you see this?" I said, brandishing the letter.

"Did you like it?" Kayleigh, my daughter said, a little warily. "I made it to play a trick on Cormac."

"I wasn't fooled," Cormac, world-weary, said. "It looks so fake."

After I picked my jaw up off the linoleum, I told them about my emotional roller coaster ride of the past hour, and then we all laughed until tears were coming out of our eyes. "Daddy is so stupid!" One of them said. Or maybe that was me.

Daddy may be stupid, but he likes to learn from his experiences. Looking again at her clever forgery, I tried to figure out how I was duped so easily. How had I willingly suspended my disbelief for so obvious a piece of fakery? A letter signed by the whole team? A western cap gun? What was I thinking?

Two key elements must exist for the WSOD to occur.

1. Establishing a reason for the reader to be willing to suspend his/her disbelief is critical.
Front row tickets for four? For my favorite team? Check. I was more than willing

2. There must be some element of plausibility for the reader to latch on to.
Here's the thing--as (retrospectively) silly as the idea of the Celtics giving up front row seats because of a partnership with a cap gun company is, the other part of the premise--my son winning some out-of-the-blue prize, is entirely believable to me. His winning is plausible because his history of winning every possible school and church basket raffle is well documented (I may have even blogged about it). He is the kid that will catch the t-shirt fired from the t-shirt cannon at the local minor league baseball game. he is the kid that will be selected out of the crowd of five hundred to help the magician with his trick. He wins us free pizzas, nights of fun at the bowling alley, and all sorts of promotional sportswear, so the idea of him winning, by itself, was not outside of the realm of the possible. And I have to admit, the "western cap gun" thing struck a certain chord in me, some nostalgic yearning for the days of yore where there were kids' radio promotions and secret decoder rings to be found in cereal boxes. I didn't get to live in those times, but I heard they existed, and they sound pretty cool.

So, writers, think on these elements if you are looking to have readers work with you. Getting your reader to voluntarily turn off the old nonsense detector is key if you are writing about fantastical things like wizards, front row tickets to the Celtics or,um, zombies. And it would be helpful if you could find an audience as willing to believe as my daughter found in me.


Natasha (Wicked Lil Pixie) said...

I love your daughter, I say this as I have a huge poop eating grin on my face. Thats hysterical! LOL

Watching said...

That is such a....mean thing to do,to actually take the time...

I was getting excited, right along with you, as I was reading your post and then it was taken away-I was practically horrified. It was like suspicion was slowly creeping in for one final blow!

So I think that in order for your blog post to have that kind of effect, you have to be an excellent writer as it is.

Quinn said...

I agree with Watching. I love the flow and style of your rather, whether tis a blog entry or a novel. You manage to keep it very human and natural, inserting jokes without hitching the flow.

I must say that I am impressed with your daughter's abilities. Future in the FBI, maybe? :-p

I think this entry was one of my favorites thus far. The way you tied it all together was wonderful. And you're not pretentious in the slightest. ^_^

Lita138 said...

Hee hee hee! Your daughter is one smart cookie. Could she be following in daddy's footsteps?

fayemouslovesyew said...

This sounds JUST like something my aunt did to my grandma on April Fool's.

A letter came in the mail from The Oprah Winfery show. It said her and her daughters (she has 5, my mom being the youngest... even though she's 43) were going to be on the show for something stupid, I forget. My Grandma's sight is terrible, so she couldn't really tell it was fake. She got all excited because she was going to be on the show, and then she realised something. That wouldn't happen. After having my mother further examing it later on, she picked out flaws, even though there were few. It was hilarious though. Eventually my aunt said it was her.
It's so easy to get my grandma. One time we told her I was pregnate when I was like 12. It's was great. She believed it for a little then realised what day it was. Good times, good times.