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Believing the Unbelievable

Banes at 12:00AM, Feb. 13, 2020
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The suspension of disbelief happens automatically in readers and audiences if a story does its job.

Audiences WANT to believe in a story when they start reading or watching it.

I mean, you can' t count on everyone. I remember going to see the Benjamin Button movie and my friend said she didn't buy into a baby being born “old”. She said the wrinkles and “oldness” would be impossible to be born with. I didn't think that was valid, personally. If you're going to engage with that story, you have to buy in to the central premise. Believing that one piece of magic was a requirement to watching that movie.

The movie was not good. But that's besides the point. The impossibility of the “magic” was not the problem.

In a supernatural horror story, you have to be willing to buy in to the premise of ghosts, or monsters, or aliens or whatever the premise is -

- but it's the job of the book, or comic or movie to allow you to suspend your disbelief unconsciously, and to not ask you to buy any additional fantastical or illogical events.

What I mean is, an audience can be expected to buy into a magic spell that forces a lawyer to tell nothing but the truth, but the mechanics of his family life, job, and the legal mechanics of the courtroom plot should make as much sense as possible. The more the non-extraordinary parts of the story fall apart, the worse the story will play.

(there should also be an internal logic to the “magic” itself. Tantz Aerine talked about this last week).

So how do you create belief in something extraordinary?

There are several ways I'm sure. I think comics have an advantage there; readers of comics are preconditioned to accept magic powers, wild creatures, and all kinds of fantastical stuff. Also, the visual aspect of comics can present a shortcut to believability. The reader is SEEING the creatures, or powers, or whatever. So they'll believe. Believing in the real humanity of the characters and their relationships becomes the challenging part.

To make readers believe, my favorite technique is to make a character NOT believe. Like Agent Scully in the X-Files or Han Solo in Star Wars, a character who doesn't buy the magic of the Force or the existence of the paranormal was a big help in making those extraordinary things seem real.

I used this technique in a ghost story I did in my Typical Strange comic. Abigail was being haunted by a ghost, but it took her the entire story before she would accept the possibility that the ghost existed. I believe this allowed readers to accept the reality of the ghost much more easily.

The other method that comes to mind would be to create a realistic, believable, environment and characters first, and then bring in the fantastical. This was done nicely in E.T. and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Do you do anything to sell the fantastical in your comics?

comment

anonymous?

ozoneocean at 7:22PM, Feb. 13, 2020

Having a character have to be convinced of a thing is such a good idea!

ShaRose49 at 7:09PM, Feb. 13, 2020

I try to keep my stories pretty down-to-earth so that they’re very relatable, but I’ll always throw in a dash of cartoony scifi/superhero elements and some spiritual elements to make things more interesting and to (hopefully) give the story more depth. Some of the characters are very skeptical and jaded, but not because of the super-power elements (that’s normal in this world) but in other areas, like faith, hope, and love. It’s a fun contrast to have fiercely optimistic characters alongside characters who’ve experienced so much reality that they’re all but numb to these concepts.

Avart at 5:45AM, Feb. 13, 2020

Excellent article @Banes. I'm working on give my characters a more deep, interesting way to show their feelings/emotions. Even though is a vampire story I want to show the feelings of the humans and vampires as "the gloom" drowns they deeper and deeper. Those feelings has to be the link between the real world of the reader and my fantasy world.

bravo1102 at 5:33AM, Feb. 13, 2020

A lot of the things I write about are from non-fiction books and stuff you'd hear on late night radio. I go back to the old "In Search of..." TV show with psychics, cryptids and UFOs so I just take it another step. And then go online and read the latest accounts that tell of things beyond what I wrote about and I have to up the ante. People believe weird things as Michael Shermer wrote so what I write isn't as unbelievable as it may seem at first. Just aspects they don't tell you in the PG documentaries.

usedbooks at 5:06AM, Feb. 13, 2020

I have one story with fantastical elements, but honestly not that fantastic because it's about cryptic. But for me, the special part of the writing is that the setting and characters are amalgamation of my life and interests. It's set in a very realistic town (made up but references real locations) with biologists and "rednecks" who are deep, real people, who have real interests and passions. The "monster" was designed to fit a cladagram. It is a "what-if" I doodles in my biology classes. All its features and behavior were inspired by real animals. It's not magical, but it's unusual. And I think it helps bridge that plausibility gap to consider the potential validity of other "cryptids" of the world.


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