Suspension of Disbelief: Part 1

It’s Wild-Card Wednesday again.  You know what Wednesday is, right?  It’s anything can happen day.  Today, we’re going to talk about plot hitches that interrupt the willing suspension of disbelief.

At its heart, fiction is a big fat lie about phony people in fake situations.  We–the audience–usually don’t care.  We experience a connection to the story, something that allows us to suspend disbelief.

 

Most my blog readers blog are writers.  Writing gurus admonish writers to “get it right.” One misplaced fact, they say, jars your audience right out of their willingness to suspend disbelief.  It’s true.

Each one of us–as readers and as viewers–have our line in the sand, the one thing that makes change the channel or throw a book against wall.

For some folks, the deal breaker has to do with characterization or dialogue.  Personally, I hate it when the facts are wrong.  Nobody is right, and nobody is wrong.  Fiction is subjective.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

I posted last week about the fantastic characterization in The Walking Dead.  This week, I’m going to post about a plot device that took me out of the story.  Warning: there will be spoilers.

Lori Grimes learns she’s pregnant.  The father of her baby might her her husband Rick.  But it also might be her ex-lover Shane Walsh.  Great conflict, right?  Lots of possibilities.

Lori asks Glen–the camp escape artist–to sneak into town and get her a mystery item from the drugstore.  Deep down, I just knew what Lori had asked Glen to get.  Sure enough, he returns with several packs of the morning after pill.  I rolled my eyes.

I’m not a medical professional–not even close–but I know the morning after pill doesn’t cause miscarriage.

I know this for the same reason I know what an episiotomy is even though I do not have children.  It’s the same reason I know what Fibromyalgia is even though I do not suffer from it.  If I have learned anything from my ongoing medical issues, it is that knowledge is power.

 

As Lori agonized about whether to take the pills, I had a hard time caring.  The morning after pills weren’t going to end  her pregnancy.  At most, they’d make her very sick.

The end result is that Lori takes a bunch of the pills and forces herself to regurgitate them.  Her husband finds out and blasts her for even contemplating such a thing.  The whole time, I’m still thinking, “Who cares?”

The online buzz defended Lori’s turning to the morning after pill as a woman’s act of desperation in a post apocalyptic world.  Of course, activists on both sides of the issue frothed at the mouth over the whole thing.

Producers and writers of The Walking Dead stated they knew what the morning after pill would and wouldn’t do.  They claimed use of creative license to explore a storyline with Lori’s character.

 

The morning after pill episode will create an extra layer of conflict for Lori.  She and her intentions will be tried and judged by both her husband and her ex-lover–and probably the rest of the survivor’s camp.

Since the writers and producers purposefully used the morning after pill, it opens up a world of new ways to define Lori’s character–uninformed, impatient, short-sighted, and sneaky.  Perhaps this was the intent all along.

Even so, that one little detail was enough to break my willing suspension of disbelief.

Onto my second example.  American Horror Story has been one of my favorite weekly shows since it began.  It’s stylish and weird and lurid.  Warning: there will be spoilers.

Two weeks ago, American Horror Story introduced us to an alternate history of the Black Dahlia murder.

In this alternate history, Elizabeth Short agrees to trade sexual favors for dental work.  For the record, Ms. Short had bad teeth in real life.

The fictional dentist apparently craved a necrophilia-esque experience and put Ms. Short under laughing gas or some kind of anesthesia.  While the dentist did the deed, the fictional Ms. Short died of an overdose.

When the dentist discovered his patient was dead, he freaked.  One of the house’s many ghosts showed up to to help him hide Ms. Short’s cause of death.   The ghost carved up the body to match history’s specifications, and voilá!  America’s most famous murder victim was born.

Now, I’m no Black Dahlia scholar–not even close.  However, I do know that the coroner reported the real Black Dahlia died from massive internal hemorrhaging caused by blows to her head.

Her wrists and ankles bore bruises that suggested she’d been bound before her death.  Some of her other injuries looked as though she’d been tortured before her death.

[Note: S. K. Epperson recently did a blog post on The Black Dahlia which includes a theory on the real murderer’s identity.]

Up to this point, I considered mythology of American Horror Story’s murder house one of the best things on TV.   It seemed so well thought out and plausible.  The Black Dahlia episode–AKA “Spooky Little Girl”–changed that for me.  It seemed lazy after such good storytelling.

Perhaps the twisting of historical fact means something in the grand scheme of the series.  The online buzz suggests it goes with the theme of the house’s ghosts–they are all seeking their wildest desire.

Either way, it transported me out of the story and slammed me back into the real world.

For the record, I don’t intend to quit watching either The Walking Dead or American Horror Story.  They’re both great shows.  Nothing is perfect, and expecting perfection is a one way ticket to disappointment.

Next Wednesday, we’ll discuss two examples of things that cemented my willing suspension of belief in Part 2. Until then…

 

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