“There ain’t no way…”
Superman III – Richard Pryor falls 20 -30 stories off of a skyscraper, wearing snow skies and pink table cloth as a cape. He lands on the skies, on a slanted roof on the side of the skyscraper, and slides down, flying off and falling some other ridiculous amount of floors, landing – on his skies – on the street and walks away.
Audience in 1983: “lol”
Audience in 2016: “There ain’t no way!”
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls – Indy and friends, in an amphibious vehicle, fall down not one, not two, but three high water falls and no only live, but manage to find their way back to the vehicle after each fall. A vehicle, that doesn’t smash to pieces until the last drop – and I’m not even certain it did then.
Audience: “There ain’t no way…This movie sucks, too”
These are just a couple of examples of today’s audience and how they react to ridiculously implausible things that happen to characters. These are movie examples, but it happens in books too. Here’s an example that bugs me:
Angels and Demons – Robert Langdon jumps out of a helicopter, a couple thousand feet in the air (if I remember correctly), using a tarp as a parachute, seconds before an anti-matter explosion goes off overhead…and survives!!!
Me: “Are you fucking shitting me!”
Today’s audience is exponentially more informed (and critical) then it was before the internet. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is micro-analyzed by armchair police, spies, physicists, engineers, etc. That’s not to say they (we) are always right when we take issue with implausible, but we like to nitpick. Judgment may passed on something based on a Geocities page or, worse yet, a Geocities page that someone mentioned in a argument on Tumblr.
In my opinion, suspension of disbelief exists on a very short leash nowadays.
As a writer, I try to be aware of my audience, in this respect. I think its important to realize is easier than ever that something like a protagonist seeking shelter inside of a refrigerator during a fairly close atomic bomb test, in the 50’s, and surviving, is enough to knock the audience right out of story. Let’s not forget that, in those days, one would likely be locked inside that refrigerator…but I digress.
Recently I was going through a work in progress and nearly crapped my pants when I realized I had to redesign my protagonists spacecraft, because it’s structure, as I had originally envisioned, would not be able to hold up during the transition from zero gravity to planetary gravity. I’m not an engineer, but I feel like I know enough from reading about real spacecraft to know I had it wrong. If I realized this, with my limited knowledge, I’m sure someone else would too and might even make mention of it in a review.
I’ve seen that in some reviews. “Its a good story, but the writer knows nothing about the subject matter. If they did, they’d know the story would be virtually impossible to happen.” I’m paraphrasing, but I’ve seen reviews like that.
Having this awareness, about my audience, is good thing. But its also a roadblock to my own personal progress.
The problem is I’m too aware and I want EVERYTHING to be plausible. I sometimes can’t help the feeling that I can’t put in a cool story element I think of because I can’t explain it. It can almost be paralyzing at times. I’d really like to write something really weird and almost disturbing… Stephen King-ish. But I haven’t come up with anything that I’m happy with because I can’t shake the “I have to be able to explain it” feeling.
Now some things that are completely theoretical seem to get a free pass, such as time travel (to a certain degree) and Faster than light flight, but even those things come under scrutiny.
How do you other writers, out there, square your stories against the limited suspension of disbelief of today’s audience?
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