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Reality Suspension
By Rowdy Rhodes
March, 2007, 14:59

Without details your writing is barren, lacks depth, and puts readers to sleep.

That's the easiest way to describe writing that does not suspend a reader's disbelief it's flat. There's no depth to the story, the characters are figuratively thin, the settings are non-descriptive, and the scenes just not believable. All of these shortcomings lead to failure in grabbing and keeping your audience's attention.

Every successful author, when asked how to maintain the reader's attention, will respond with a similar answer: Use sensory description to invoke the reader's senses, replacing the audience's current reality with the one you're creating. Involve them in the scene by engaging emotions and five-sense experience.

Instead of your reader sitting on a subway car or bus on their way to a job they really don't enjoy, you take them on a trip outside their public transportation system. You take them away from thoughts of what their day will be like by placing them smack dab in the middle of a world you created.

Achieving this diversion is no easy task. With butt bouncing on the bus, the reader can hear others gabbing away around them, their eyes are being inundated with colours, advertising, and movement. They can smell the cologne of the person sitting next to them, and they feel the page of your book in their hands.

Now make that all disappear.

Much easier said than done, but here you'll find out how to do just that.

Every writer who has studied even the basics of writing knows that a gripping opening sentence or paragraph is needed to get the process started. This is usually accomplished through an opener:

  • Shock: The President's hung himself!
  • Intrigue: Someone killed the President!
  • Curious details: The President was a beautiful woman, well-known for her steely composure under pressure. She was accepting no discord within the ranks of her advisors over China's recent missile test. She needed unity and expected to get it.

To keep the reader settled in the fictional world requires detailed details. Your writing must present a full picture. Was the President in the garden or the bedroom? Both are acceptable places to be and depend on where you are headed with the setting and story.

Author Peggy Bechko, when asked how she suspends reader disbelief responded this way, "All my life I've written from the movies in my head. I actually see and enter the world I create like it's a film playing in my mind. If you can translate that into your five senses and write about the sights, smells, feel, and the sounds of what is going on while you experience them, the reader is drawn into the tale. All disbelief is suspended and reality is put aside while the reader joins you in the one you create."

American movie director, George A. Romero is quoted, "In the horror genre, it's hard to find topics that'll be really scary for everyone . . . to get that suspension of disbelief." He's looking for the generic fear that can be found in the masses so that everyone can relate to the topic and lose themselves in the story.

Scary or otherwise, create or use a topic that everyone can relate to, catch the reader with a gripping opening, and, without boring your audience, provide every detail for them to experience that world. Get readers to feel what it's like to walk through a forest with pine needles under foot, the  inescapable smell of fresh air, a slight breeze blowing on their face, and the sound of leaves rustling around them. All of these details create a new reality for the reader, which is exactly what you want to accomplish.

If you're successful in transferring the movie in your mind to the pages in your book, the reader will no longer feel their butt bus bouncing. Rather, they'll hear your sounds, see your settings and characters, oblivious to the smell of the cologne next to them. Your characters, your world, your story is all they will experience. If you write it extremely well, they may even miss their stop and keep right on reading for the rest of the day.

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Rowdy Rhodes is the Site Manager of The Freelance Writing Organization International and General Manager of Inkwell Newswatch (IN). He is also known to freelance an article or two when the fancy strikes him. If you are looking for written content for your website, ezine, or print publication, drop him a line at and he'll get back to you as soon as possible.

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