Suspending a Character’s Disbelief and Ours

I’ve got book winners to announce, but that will be at the end of this post. Mwahahahaha! So grab a donut and pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea while I talk at you for a minute.


Ever read a book where a character is handed a truth that would require a major paradigm shift for him or her to accept? For example, the character suddenly learns that magic or monsters really exist.

We’ve all read stories of characters who stubbornly cling to disbelief in the face of tons of evidence to the contrary. They insist that they’re dreaming or “this isn’t really happening” until they reach a plot point (at least halfway through the book) that pushes them toward belief. Or we’ve read stories where a character instantly accepts a completely world-changing viewpoint without a struggle. There are also stories where the character seems to ignore what would be totally obvious to a seven-year-old. I think of that as the Lois-Lane-can’t-see-Superman-behind-Clark-Kent’s-glasses perspective. That’s why we don’t necessarily suspend our disbelief as we read. (Or sometimes we go along for the ride because the characters are so beloved or iconic.)


Lois, have you noticed anything unusual about Clark? No? Some reporter you are.

Here is where foreshadowing can be an author’s BFF. An author can hint at the possibility that something major is going to happen at a future point. Foreshadowing also is a reminder that things are not always what they appear to be. It provides a solid base to make a character’s suspension of disbelief seem inevitable.


Prince Zuko of the Avatar animated series and Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Sometimes though, a rip-off-the-bandage approach works to move a story along. I can’t help thinking of two episodes of Doctor Who, series 4 (2008), starring David Tennant as the Doctor (BBC/BBC America).


In Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, an extremely chilling 2009 Hugo award-nominated two-episode arc written by Steven Moffat, we see a little girl talking to a psychiatrist, while her anxious dad hovers in the background. Such an innocuous scene. The little girl has told the doctor—Dr. Moon—about her dreams.

Doctor Who - Silence In The Library Doctor Moon and girl

Doctor Moon (played by Colin Salmon) and the little girl (played by Eve Newton)

In her dreams, she goes to a library—a place where she feels safe. But as we watch the episodes, we realize that all is not what it seems. Later in the first episode, because of a dangerous development, Doctor Moon has to share a shocking truth with the little girl, a truth that would require a paradigm shift for her to accept. (Quote below from IMDb. **SLIGHT SPOILER.**)

Dr. Moon: What I want you to remember is this, and I know it’s hard. The real world is a lie and your nightmares are real. The Library is real. There are people trapped in there. People who need to be saved. The shadows are moving again. Those people are depending on you. Only you can save them. Only you.

**END SPOILER.** You can read this Wikipedia article if you want to know the plot. Or, I would suggest watching the episodes. They are extremely good.

Another example of a character having to shift from disbelief to belief comes from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone/Philosopher’s Stone (the title depends on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be on), Hagrid tells Harry the truth about Harry’s extraordinary life in this scene from the first Harry Potter movie, directed by Christopher Columbus (2001).

Rowling set the stage earlier by having weird things happen that Harry witnessed, but couldn’t explain. So when the big reveal comes, his struggle for acceptance doesn’t feel contrived.

I’m facing a similar issue in my middle grade book—a character struggling to believe something extraordinary about herself. I’ll ask you the same questions I had to answer for the character: If you were told that magic really exists, what’s the first thing you would do? What would you say or ask?

While you think about those questions, I’ll move on to the book giveaway. Thanks for you patience. If you recall, last week I had mentioned two great books: None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio and Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue by Charles Yallowitz. You can find those posts here and here. Jordie and Hello Kitty wanted to be in on the reveal. You might have to enlarge the photos below if you have trouble reading the names.

NoneoftheAbove_Cover 25310886

The winner of None of the Above is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .


The winner of Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .


Congratulations Jill! Congrats, Professor! Please comment below to confirm.

Now I will leave you with a photo I am calling, “The Five Geese of the Apocalypse.” For some reason, they were just standing there on the ledge looking out. Surveying their domain perhaps?


Doctor Moon and the little girl from Doctor Who, series 4, DVD cover from Wikipedia. Lois Lane and Clark Kent from Coffee and donut from Zuko from Anakin/Darth Vader from

33 thoughts on “Suspending a Character’s Disbelief and Ours

  1. I never have a hard time suspending my disbelief, as long as the setup works. It can even sort of work, and I’ll go along.

    As for your question, if I found out magic was real (and I’m convinced it is), I’d use the crap out of it……no hesitation. No questions. No thinking. I’d try to make the people I care about have happier lives and grant wishes.

  2. I’ve wondered something about the Superman one. We always say that his disguise is nothing more than glasses, but he does put on a different personality as Clark. His posture, mannerisms, and speech pattern are different too. Maybe that’s what makes people disbelieve that he’s really Superman. The readers know the truth, so we can’t put ourselves in the shoes of people who are actually there.

    As far as characters disbelieving things, I can think of an example where it was taken too far. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland . . . I got so annoyed when Alice kept refusing to believe what’s around her and making excuses. Even when she was interacting with the world and going through the story, she seemed to be resisting it all until the end. There might have been a moral there, but it really took me out of the movie because it felt more like a plot that the writer refused to close up instead of an actual character arc.

    • I also was annoyed when I saw the movie. First of all, that dance the Mad Hatter kept doing was a bit weird. And second, yes, Alice was deliberately, annoyingly clueless for the sake of plot I guess. 😦

      As for Clark, it’s funny how I used to read the Superman comic books and the fact that no one believed he was Superman didn’t bother me then. Now I’m like, “Oh give me a break.” There’s something refreshing about everyone knowing that Tony Stark is Iron Man.

      • I was kind of lost on what was going on with the Hatter. Didn’t always seem crazy.

        A lot of the Marvel heroes forget secret identities. It seems to be predominantly with the street level heroes who deal with basic criminals. I think with Superman, it’s nearly impossible to hide his appearance since he doesn’t wear a mask like Batman. His situation has become the more uncommon one these days. To be fair, we see what happens with Stark for being out in the open. His house gets blown up and his loved ones are targeted.

  3. That geese photo is intriguing. Most geese don’t land on rooftops. It makes a great writing ‘prompt’ (if I use it in a blog post, may I repost the photo?)
    Anyway, you’ve re-piqued my interest in the Doctor! Think it’s time for a video binge. 😉

    • Feel free to use it as a prompt! When I saw the geese up there, I was very surprised, especially since they just stood there looking over the edge.
      I hope you’ll watch Doctor Who. Some episodes are better than others. 🙂

  4. “If you were told that magic really exists, what’s the first thing you would do? What would you say or ask?” I think you know what I would ask…for an unlimited supply of SP for both of us! Woo Hoo!
    I’m thrilled to win a copy of None of the Above…thank you! I bet you had a hard time squeezing my name on that card. 🙂

    • Ha ha! Yeah! I could use some right now. I ate the last crumbs last night while watching Cinderella.
      Actually your name wasn’t difficult to fit in the starburst once I turned it the right way. 🙂

  5. Congrats to the winners!

    And wonderful post, Linda. I happily suspend disbelief (Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee, Harry Potter) as long as a story has internal consistency ~> if life was like that, is that how those characters would behave?

    If life was magic, I’d head to Hogwart’s on the Hogwart’s Express to learn how better to harnass it.

  6. Thank you for this fantastic post! When I wrote my first manuscript, I had a great time writing about sisters who learn that they can wield magic. Then a beta reader asked: Wouldn’t the main character be a bit freaked out if she could suddenly alter matter? That question led to serious thought about the effect of magic. So, if I learned today that magic existed, I’d probably want to know the cost. And I’d also want to check with trusted friends that I wasn’t going nuts.

    • Good point, Laura. (And thank you.) The cost issue is huge. And I would be freaked out totally. I get freaked out if I’m just told that a guy likes me. So knowing I had magical powers would totally be mind blowing.

      I keep thinking of Holly Black’s lecture on magic and its costs. That’s what I love about Harry Potter. Rowling mentioned the high costs right away. Here this kid was orphaned due to magical curses.

  7. Of course magic is real; Pooh is real and so is the Dragon in the Clockbox. I wish I could take the magic, which is real, and make the world a better place (and maybe be crowned Miss America 🙂 )
    Another provocative post.

    • I’ve never read The Dragon in the Clockbox. I just looked it up on Amazon. Sounds like a great story!!!
      And of course Pooh is real. 🙂
      I think you make the world a better place just by posting on your blog. Your posts certainly do me a world of good.

  8. Behold a pale goose! 🙂

    Congrats to Jill and VJ!

    If I was told magic existed, what’s the first thing I would do? The skeptic in me would declare the person telling me is either insane or mistaking some other phenomena for magic. But a big part of me would hope they were right and I was wrong.

    What would I say or ask? Convince me.

  9. Congratulations to the winners.

    Magic is good. After all those fairy tales I read as a child, I have no trouble suspending disbelief. As long as it all fits together, I’m in. There’s only one type of story that hasn’t convinced me so far: zombies. I don’t get the logic, and they’re ugly in such a gross way. I admit that I haven’t really given them a chance, but I don’t intend to. Sorry, zombie lovers.

  10. Congratulations to the winners! I’ve never had a character discover that magic is real, though my current work-in-progress was once conceived as a time travel. (I never got to the time travel part.) In the WiP, the opposite seems to be happening in that the main character is coming to question her faith in light of the reality she faces.

  11. I’m sorry I’m WAY late to the party. You might be wondering why I’m even reading a three year old blog entry by a total stranger. I assure you there’s a perfectly good reason, and I’ll get to that eventually.
    But first i will say that I’ve enjoyed what little I’ve seen so far, and look forward to reading more. I like this post in particular, as it reminds me I’ve been meaning to finally dive into Dr. Who after putting it off for years. Another thing I’ve been putting off way too long is writing, and this blog seems like it could be a wellspring of inspiration as well as style tips. I like how you ask questions and encourage participation from your readers.

    And speaking of those questions:
    If I were told that magic exists, i would of course ask to be convinced. With my luck, I suspect there would be no concrete proof, only strong circumstantial evidence which still required some leap of faith. But for now let’s assume i was not only able to be convinced, but became proficient in this mysterious craft. I would fix some troubling problems for a few people i care deeply about, and a few protection spells to keep them out of harms way in the future.

    Then I’d summon geese.
    And I’d send them back in time to a few strategic places where they might help someone who thought they just looking for a picture of some geese but really needed a gentle nudge toward opening his or her eyes to the magic all around them.
    I hope i haven’t bored you to tears, or intruded upon what seems to be a rather tightly knit group of friends. I don’t know yet if this blog is still active, and I’m unfamiliar with WP so i don’t know if you’ll even see my comment. But in case you do, i just wanted to let you know I’m glad you were here.

    • Thank you for commenting, Chuck. I’m glad you read the post and found it helpful. Yes, I’m still here. I hope you’ll be encouraged to write. If you think of it, please share what you’re writing.

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