Speculative fiction and suspension of disbelief
Posted by: showtunetrivia 02:31 pm EST 03/09/19
In reply to: re: Inbreeding - Michael_Portantiere 01:34 pm EST 03/09/19

This is an issue that my husband (Harry Turtledove) and I deal with in writing speculative fiction (science fiction--including the subgenre of alternate history--and fantasy). We're already asking readers to suspend disbelief in accepting whatever incredible premise we've devised. It can be aliens invading in World War II, Shakespeare surviving in Spanish-occupied England, a global conflict fought with magic, or a guy stealing a time machine to cure George Gershwin's brain tumor.

To maintain our narrative authority, we want to be as rigorous as possible in all the details. Because you can write exciting plots with engaging characters, but the more the reader goes "What? That can't happen." Or "That doesn't make sense in this world." the more likely that you've lost that reader. The goal is to immerse the reader with accurate world-building, even if that world is highly improbable and/or fantastical in nature.

In many ways, modern musical librettists have to cope with the same issue, even if they're not writing BRIGADOON or FINIAN'S RAINBOW. They have to convey a story in which the characters often relate plot points and information about themselves in a nonrealistic fashion: by singing and dancing. The audience knows, expects, and accepts this: they're at a musical. Just as the reader of a fantasy knows the setting is a world with magic. But the more the librettist fails to maintain internal consistency in his/her premise, the harder for the audience to suspend disbelief.

One can argue that all fiction (and that goes for plays as well as non-speculative novels and stories) should hold to such standards, and I'd say you were right. But by their very nature of the genre, I think writers of sf and fantasy have even higher standards to maintain.

This explains why there's so much bad fantasy out there, folks.


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