This is the biggest single request any author can make on a reader: suspend your disbelief, whilst you come along for a ride and I tell you this crazy story.
I am having some trouble with this in the current YA novel I am reading. It is vastly popular (no, it's not Twilight) and has a dedicated group of followers and reviewers singing its praises.
My problem isn't with the setting or the main character (who I think is wonderfully portrayed). It is with the sinister "Order" she is about to come a part of and with the mysterious Indian boy who is following her around - all the way from India (as a stowaway on the ship), to her new boarding school. He threatens her, he breaks into her room and leaves angry notes for her. He warns her from doing "magic" things with the Order but doesn't take the time to explain to her why she should be careful or who he really is. Instead of creating suspense, I'm just irritated.
The book - in my opinion - is written quite well, but these scenes relating to the mysterious boy are confusing and dull and let the rest of the book down. I cannot suspend my disbelief that anyone would be able to stow away on a ship for two months without starving or without being discovered. Then somehow figure out where the object of their stalking would be going to live in England and then get there before them and then join a group of gypsies in the woods and lay in wait for her and her classmates, in order to keep an eye on her.
My friends over at The Booksmugglers raised some very interesting questions on their blog about this very subject due to an an interesting article on Romancing the Blog written by Deb Werksman the romance fiction editor for Sourcebooks on the subject of credibility in fiction.
She mentions the criteria which she follows in order to recommend a book to be published and they are:
*a heroine the reader can relate to
*a hero she can fall in love with
*a world that gets created
*I can sell it in 2-3 sentences
But in addition to this criteria she also thinks about poet Philip Larkin’s criteria for the Booker Prize – Larkin asked himself:
*can I read it?
*if I can read it, can I believe it?
*if I can believe it, do I care?
*if I care, what is the depth of that caring and how long will it last?
The speculative fiction genre has always pushed the boundaries of belief, be it sci fi, fantasy, horror, the new weird, urban fantasy, steampunk, alternative history or whatever. It asks of a reader to suspend their own disbelief and to have an open mind. I have found some of the most amazing books this way - the stories are convoluted and insane but because the story and the plot is so good, you just keep reading, immersing yourself in the world and characters.
Case in point, the amazing Sharon Shinn's Samaria series. Not only is she an amazingly skilled writer but her world-building is just astounding. Another example of an author whom I greatly admire for her storytelling skill and scope of her novels, Faith Hunter. These two authors to should come together and write a "how to" novel on world building, character creation and plot. More importantly because they are adept at these three important sections, their novels work and not for one moment do you disblieve the characters or setting.
All I can hope for is emulating this whilst creating my own WIP. - narrows eyes, or else I get to eat humble pie-