Here’s a phrase that gives me hives, gets my panties in a wad:
I can’t suspend my disbelief.
Usually when I hear someone use this — or one of its many iterations — they’re referring to traditional mysteries featuring amateur sleuths. So, of course, I’m irritated. To me, people often lob those five words to intentionally render one of my chosen genres worthless. Why wouldn’t I be irked?
But I’m not interested in self-analysis today, in my own petty responses and visions of revenge. No.
I want to go deeper.
You see, I think all fiction requires — at its very foundation — a suspension of disbelief.
That’s precisely why I read it.
I happen to enjoy escape. Tony Hillerman referred to his works as entertainments. That’s one heck of a noble goal. Let me tell you, if a book can pull me away from thinking about the economy or brutal crime or global warming, well, I’m grateful.
We’ve all seen the rise of the thriller, of one man or woman taking on evildoers in a world filled with creepy conspiracies. These individuals routinely end up saving the planet. Do I believe that stuff? Nah. But it’s fun to read.
Are you going to tell me you’re certain there’s a wizarding school in England? That vampires exist? That werewolves make good detectives? That Dexter would be able to get away with his doings week after week and no one would notice?
I can’t suspend my disbelief.
Sure you can. Everyone does it every single day. I was talking with my husband about this and he said, "Every person who has ever been married does it." Ha, ha. But he has a point: we willingly and constantly embrace personal and cultural myths.
And, guess what? They’re just that. Myths, fantasies, lies . . .
To me what matters is the internal coherence of a piece. I don’t really believe that Discworld exists, but it’s tremendously logical within its context. Sookie Stackhouse isn’t real, but I love her nonetheless. John Dortmunder and his crew wouldn’t be able to pull off those heists, but that doesn’t diminish my pleasure in reading about them.
If romance isn’t your cup of tea, admit it. If you can’t — or won’t — wrap your head around the idea that your sweet little next door neighbor is Super Sleuth. Fine. Don’t.
What gets my goose is that this phrase is often used as a universal condemnation. It’s as if by saying or writing it, the person is distancing his personal responsibility in the equation.
It’s Traditional Mystery’s fault that the speaker can’t suspend disbelief.
It’s Fantasy’s fault and Science Fiction’s fault.
It’s Fiction’s fault that the reader is incapable of enjoying the read.
Fess up to it. Be honest, please. It’s not the suspension of disbelief that’s getting you; it’s that you don’t like the basic concept. For whatever reason, you’re choosing to write off swaths of literature as being invalid because of your own biases.
That’s okay. We all have biases.
Just stop with the BS.
I think what gets me even more about
I can’t suspend my disbelief is that it’s as empty a phrase as a rejection from an editor that claims something isn’t compelling.
It’s just plain weasle-ly. And even though there’s nothing there, the words are like invisible viruses and carry power anyway.
I don’t know about you, but I resent the infection . . .
Okay, I’ll step off of my soapbox now.
1. Is there a common, but utterly empty phrase that drives you berserk?
2. Do you use I can’t suspend my disbelief and feel that it really does say something? (Convince me.)