When a writer creates a story, it must be told in a way that allows the reader to "suspend disbelief." Readers must be willing to put aside their usual resistance to believing ridiculous or far-fetched things in order to enjoy a story. Normally, when navigating day to day life, we have enough cynicism so we can know when someone is conning us. But when processing stories, readers must decide if they will let go of their skepticism in order to go with the story, if they will allow the words to take them to new places and let them experience sometimes unimaginable things. If not, the needle on the record player screeches across the vinyl. The book is closed and set aside forever. The reader didn't "go with it," they didn't suspend disbelief.
To suspend disbelief, the reader must be able to trust the writer. In just the first few sentences the author must prove she is capable, that the story is worthy of the reader’s time, that it’s going to be worth the effort to stick with it. Once trust is established, a reader will let the words transport him to unbelievable places, to forget he is just reading, and to actually experience the events as if he were there.
When Spencer was young, he lived in a world of suspended disbelief. And at the same time, his sister would never suspend disbelief. Their diverse approaches to life were in their DNAs. Both couldn’t have lived any other way. They were each wired to be as they were.
One year for a family reunion in Denver we met at my grandpa’s house. Along with my parents and my aunt and uncle, my siblings and cousins were there too, along with their kids. My children were five and about to enter kindergarten. My cousin Linda (the nurse who rescued us when Charlie had his hand crushed) became Spencer’s companion at that picnic. Spencer was glued to her side, constantly regaling her with stories of his battles and conquests. Linda told me later that she’d learned from Spencer about his fighting pirates on the open waters, and that he was especially good at it. He searched the bushes around them in the yard for pirates and he kept his eye out, just in case any lurking pirates would come and put Linda in danger. He told her he would keep her safe from any pirates that happened by.
Unbeknownst to Spencer, Molly stood nearby and overheard all the storytelling her brother was spinning. As soon as Spencer finally left to go fight a dragon, or maybe this time he was just drawn away to go play with the other kids who were forming a game of tag—something Molly wouldn’t be doing because she didn’t really play with other children—Molly stepped up to Linda and waved her down to her level, coaxing her to lend Molly her ear and listen closely. Linda wondered what was this important secret, so imperative, that Molly had to impart.
Linda bent closer and said, “Yes Molly?”
Not yet mastering elocution, which left her unable to pronounce the sounds “R” and “L” with any accuracy or edge, did nothing to deter Molly from setting Linda straight.
“You know Yinda, he nevah fought a piwatt in his yife!” And she walked off, satisfied that she’d set the record straight. And then she probably went to watch the other children chase each other around the yard in some silly game for kids.
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