That started me analyzing what made the story and characters inaccessible to me -- what kept me from that all-important state of suspension of disbelief.
Remember Samuel Taylor Coleridge from high school English Lit class? He wrote the poem Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Of course, I learned in college English Lit that he would probably be diagnosed bipolar in today's world, not to mention that he had a lifelong opium habit. The opium probably explains some of his writing.
I'm digressing. Back to the willing suspension of disbelief, a phrase coined in 1817 by Coleridge. He thought that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a story, no matter how fanciful, that the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the story. In Coleridge's opinion, that suspension of disbelief was something created by the writer with the emotional truth he injected into the story.
Do you agree with Coleridge? Or do you agree with the popular opinion that developed in the latter part of the 20th century which shoved responsibility for achieving suspension of disbelief onto the reader, rather than the writer to create it by his skill. Did that happen because readers were more open to embracing fantastic premises?
I think as writers we always look at situations from a writer's viewpoint. I don't think readers look at things the same way. For instance, if a writer is trying to create a situation in which the protagonist does something most people wouldn't do, the writer agonizes over how to make it believable to the reader. The writer jumps through all kinds of mental hoops to create a situation in which readers will suspend their disbelief and get involved in the story.
Actually, I don't think most readers (who are non-writers) ever really think about that. They don't shop for books, picking up one after the other, with the thought, "No, I won't read that because it's too unbelievable." Or, "yes, I can suspend my disbelief and read this."
Otherwise, there would be no paranormal sales whatsoever or paranormal TV shows -- just look at the long list of TV shows with fantastical premises. Probably all book sales would suffer if readers were that analytical. Fewer romance, mystery, horror, everything in fact. When a reader wants a mystery, the reader probably doesn't pick up a book, read the blurb, and think: I don't believe the reason this sleuth is involved in the story.
Regardless of the genre, readers follow the thought process of: "ah, this sounds intriguing." Or it doesn't sound interesting and they don't buy. Readers don't buy books based on whether the reason that the sleuth becomes involved suspends their disbelief. They buy based on the way the story or the character resonates with them.
I think this is true for every genre and may explain why writers are often shocked by huge sales on books they find, well, inferior. Those stories found an audience because some aspect resonated with readers. I think, as writers, we lose sight of the fact that storytelling ability often trumps writing skill. We get caught up in the mechanics of building a better mousetrap in hopes that the world of readers will beat a path to our door when maybe we should invest more in emotional truth -- in the human interest part of the equation.
What do you think? What puts you in that state of being carried away by the story and its characters?