Tuesday, 19 January 2010

IS 'SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF' ACCEPTABLE IN THRILLER FICTION?

When writing the adventures of Joe Hunter I often stop and ask myself an important question: Is this believable?


Then I ask myself a second question: Does it really matter?

In truth I don't know the answer to either question and ordinarily I push them to the back of my mind and forge on.

A crime thriller needs to be larger than life for it to succeed. Therefore; is it not important that the heroics supercede that possible by 'ordinary' human beings?

I don't ever intend to step into 007 country, but I do want the Joe Hunter thrillers to be full of blistering action sequences, but with enough realism that the action is seen for what it really is i.e. down and dirty, gritty and violent, just like the real thing. However, I don't want the books to fall into the realms of fantasy either, so I always try to temper the heroics with a little pathos and a 'what if' mentaility. In real life 'Murphy's Law' can affect even the most capable of heroes (whatever that may be) and I like to throw a little of this into my Joe Hunter books.

Some critics have described Joe Hunter's adventures as being 'comic book' or 'cinematic' and I'll grab either description with both hands and hold on tight. It's no secret that what I intend to write is supposed to be taken with a grain of salt, and that I expect some level of suspension of disbelief from my readers, otherwise where would the thrills come from?

Real life can be thrilling at times - ask any cop, firefighter, soldier etc - but that's only for about 1 per cent of the time. A thriller book with only 1 per cent thrills would be boooorrrrriiiiinnnnggggg.....
So, when I write a Joe Hunter book, I'm always asking myself, what happens next? How can I make it even faster? How can I make it more exciting? If this means amping things up beyond the norm, then that's what I'll do. OK, so in the real world, a guy with a handgun going into a factory full of bad guys with  machineguns would be a real error of judgement, but, hey, who wants to read about some sensible dude waiting outside for the all clear before sneaking inside?

Suspension of disbelief isn't a phrase particular to the crime thriller genre. Horror, fantasy, Sci-Fi and all the other speculative fiction styles are a given where we have to turn off our believability chip, but take any work of fiction and the same could be said of them too. Romance novels are full of 'true love winning through', in straight crime fiction the detective or P.I. always gets their man, in Westerns the good guy always wears a white hat and is the quickest draw this side of the Rio Grande (I know I'm talking cliches and pigeon-holing genres, but just to get a point across). People accept these exaggerations of reality without question, but when it comes to thrillers there's always the tendency to go 'Oh, it was kind of over the top, though, wasn't it?'

The way I see it, the crime thriller is the equivalent of the Summer Blockbuster Movie, and has to be slightly over the top to make an impact. So, if you think that Joe Hunter's adventures are mildly implausible, well, OK, cause they have to be to stand out.

This is just me maundering on...but I'd like to hear my readers' take on the subject. What do you think? Are you prepared to suspend your disbelief for the sake of a good ol' entertaining story?

Answers on a fifty pound note, a blank cheque....or if you really must in the comments section below.




10 comments:

Lee Hughes said...

I want to be entertained. I buy a book to leave reality behind. Gimme a choice between some tool whining about "I'm not going in there 'cos their guns be bigger than mine and there's more of them' or some kick-ass bloke muttering 'Fuck it." measuring up how hard it would be to get to the roof and come in through the skylight blazing. I know which way I'm leaning.

Matt Hilton said...

Me too, Lee, me too.

David Barber said...

By day I'm a mild mannered janitor!

Give me "all guns blazing" any time of the day! For me fiction is all about escapism. Autobiographies are for reality not thrillers and crime novels and horrors. I've never fired a live round handgun in my life (An air pistol for sure when I was younger, but I couldn't hit a cows arse with a shovel!) but in my stories I/they are a crack shot and barely miss. "Believable" is what the real reader thinks, not one or two critics.

That's my opinion, anyway. Great post, Matt.

Regards, David.

Alan said...

When I read a thriller, I want fast action, and I want the good guy to kick some serious ass. I do suspend belief, because the writer goes the extra mile to give us a bloody good, action-packed story, and real life is not always so action-packed. I don't want to read a manual on something, I want to read fiction, and as long as it reads believable, then for me it's real. A thriller should thrill, and that's what you do with your books Matt. You takes us on a ride with Joe Hunter, like we're there with him, and it's like we're pulling the trigger along with him. So some critics say the books are cinematic? That's no bad thing. After all, when you go to see a Die Hard movie, you don't want to be bored out of your pants. So once again, you suspend belief, because you want to be entertained. And that's what your books do. So long as you're writing books as good as these, I'll keep buying them.

Matt Hilton said...

Thanks Chaps, I agree, as you can see from my blog. Cinematic to me is a good thing, and comic book (you'll probably know that I was influenced early on by comic books)also sums up visual (as in imagining the scne) thrills. With the books I'm trying to write something that does hit you like a Die Hard or lethal Weapon movie, so I'm chuffed with the comparison.

I'm not bemoaning the critics, it just struck me having had a few conversations over the years that thriller books tend to be seen as being inferior in some respects to other genres and that's in the believability factor. I'm all for thrillers (whatever the genre) and believe me when i say, I'll continue writing them for as long as I'm able.

Thanks for the feedback. We're all pro 'suspension of disbelief', but is there anyone with an argument to the contrary? (All nice and objective -- any ranting will be laughed at!!)

Sue H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue H said...

I agree with all that's been said here! Reading for pleasure is 'entertainment'; it is 'escapism'! We want to read something that sounds different from the 'normal' world we inhabit (er, the clue is in the word 'escapism'!)

And if the action is romping along apace and holding our attention we won't have time to stop and evaluate along the lines of 'hang on a minute - he/she couldn't do that really....' - we'll be too busy turning the pages trying to keep up!

(I'll go back and sit quietly in my corner now....shhhh, I'm reading a really good bit!!!)

Glaznost said...

Time for my tuppence-worth...
I think that suspension of disbelief is an essential part of a good thriller, as long as it isn't taken too far. I had one of my readers mention that some of my characters seem to survive terrible injuries only to be fighting back a few weeks later with minimal consequences. I took the feedback on board, but then realised, as you say, that in order for there to be a thrill element there has to be something slightly more than the human norm about your main character/s. Who wants to read about a bloke who never quite gets the job done, or gets injured and falls apart? That's real life, and the reason people read is to be taken to another place where life is a little more than normal. I think the most important thing is that when your main character gets given the reason for doing whatever it is he needs to do for the plot, that reason is believable. If it isn't, everything after will seem ridiculous, but if it is believable then you can do almost superhuman things that will still smack of believability because the reader knows the reason behind it and understands that in order to achieve that goal, the character must be greater than the norm.

At least, that's what i think...

Matt Hilton said...

Good point about the motive to win being believable. I agree with that one wholeheartedly (now I just need to come up with something believable for my next plot!)

Paul D. Brazill said...

Suspension of belief is essential in lots of types of entertainment and not so much in others. it's all showbiz, though!