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Writing Help: Suspending Disbelief in Science Fiction

Science fiction (sci-fi) is an interesting genre because it asks the reader to believe so much. While much of the science one writes about is based (sometimes loosely) on fact or real science, there are always fantastical elements. So how do you make sure your readers aren’t discarding your work? You ask them to suspend their disbelief, and believe that what you’re writing could be real.

The term suspending disbelief can be traced back to an 1817 publication by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He uses the phrase to describe one’s ability to willingly believe that something untrue could be true based on the reader’s faith in the writer. Establishing that faith and trust with your reader takes work, but here are few things that you can do so that the reader willingly suspends her disbelief:

1. Write What You Know: Do Your Research

Write what you know is one of the most common adages in the writing world. If you want your reader to trust that you know what you’re talking about, do some actual research. You can’t write about space travel if you don’t first understand what you can about the way space travel works now. Base your writing in fact, and branch out from there. Your reader can tell whether or not you know what you’re talking about. If nothing you say makes sense, then your reader won’t trust you.

2. World Building: Show Don’t Tell

This is one of the hardest parts of writing, but is so important in asking your reader to believe. If you can’t close your eyes and envision this world, then how could your reader? If you’re writing about a new world, or a distant planet, bring the place to life on the page. Go into detail by describing all the senses. Help the reader see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. Let your characters learn the politics, laws, societal values, and the daily lives of the inhabitants of the new worlds you’re creating. Make your settings feel real and the reader will believe that it is.

3. Relatable Characters

Your characters are the bones of your story; without them the reader doesn’t have as much investment. You want the reader to develop an attachment to each character, or at least most of your characters, even the ones that are the bad guys. Redeeming qualities in villains is another topic for another day, but you need the reader to want to see what happens to your characters. This is especially important when you’ve created a new race or type of creature.There has to be some quality about the character that the reader can relate to.

In short: do your research to build worlds for characters the reader can relate to. Your readers want to believe you, that’s why they’re reading your story. By giving them the right foundation with these three things, you can bring the words on your page to life, and immerse your reader in a fantastical sci-fi adventure or drama.

Want more writing help? Check our blog every week to catch a snippet from our on-staff editor, or ask the editor directly! Stay tuned for more this Sci-Fi July!


Your friend at the Henlo Press

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