The Big Lie: Encouraging your Readers to Suspend Disbelief

We are happy to welcome Laura Pauling, who has pushed through the publishing craziness to release her newest book! I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of HEIST while I was on vacation, and, as you can see from my Goodreads review, I THOROUGHLY enjoyed it.

Laura is kind of…well, let’s be honest. She’s obsessed with spies. So I was thrilled when she offered to write about The Big Lie…

Suspension of disbelief is the ability to accept the core premise of a story as truth. It usually refers to an unbelievable element such as magic, time travel, or entering a magical land through a wardrobe. Suspending belief is both easy and hard to do.

I love entering a movie or a book with a premise I’m excited about. I’ve made it real easy for the writer because I’ve already suspended my belief. But it’s up to them to keep it suspended. Every plot point, every complication, every twist, they need to prove it again.

Honestly, I think this is just as hard to do with contemporary realistic fiction as it is to do with a time travel thriller. In fact, it may be harder, but that’s another post.

Some quick and easy tips for creating The Big Lie in fiction:

  • Don’t break the world building rules you’ve already established.
  • The action/reaction of your characters in the world and to the world need to make sense within the context of the story.
  • Bring small world building details into the story wherever you can as long as they pertain to the scene. Don’t just drop them in randomly or over do it.
  • Make sure your character’s emotional arc and actions are logical because if the reader doesn’t whole-heartedly believe in your character then they are less likely to believe in your premise.
  • For me the most important way to lend believability…is the writing. Good writing gets me every time and that just takes time and hard work.
  • Don’t make your readers mad by not truly answering the story questions/mysteries you’ve presented. Don’t give them the run-around.

One TV show where I think the writers may have pushed it too far was LOST. They got so fantastical with some of the events that it was just about impossible for them to present a logical explanation that viewers could believe. Then they made some viewers mad by getting a little cheesy with the fountain of youth explanation. This turned many people off.

Me? I loved the whole show and never wavered. I was so invested in the characters that I overlooked everything. There’s definitely a lesson to be learned there.

HEIST is a time travel thriller. Think The Butterfly Effect as a YA novel. I ask the reader to believe in time travel. That’s my big lie. Each time Jack Brodie travels back to the Gardner Museum Heist to fix his mistakes and his world in the future changes for the worse, I have to convince my readers to believe the lie again. (And I hope they do!)

In what books or movies did you believe The Big Lie? I’d love to hear your examples.

Laura Pauling writes about spies, murder and mystery. She’s also the author of the Circle of Spies Series: A Spy Like Me, Heart of an Assassin and the forthcoming Twist of Fate. She writes to entertain and experience a great story…and be able to work in her jammies and slippers. Her book HEIST releases August 15th. Check it out on Goodreads.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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19 Responses to The Big Lie: Encouraging your Readers to Suspend Disbelief

  1. I love to get lost in books so that isn’t an issue for me when I’m reading. Writing can be something different, so as always thanks for the tips. Your site is very useful to both readers and writers alike. I try to keep your posts in mind while I’m writing the sequel to my novel, Mason Davis and the Rise of the Storm Makers.

  2. ainaa khan says:

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  3. Gabbi B says:

    The Hobbit (the book) sold me on its reality, as did Unwind (another book).

    The “details” part is my bane. It’s difficult for me to convince myself that I can add details without killing my pacing.

  4. Thank you, Michael! So glad you’re finding it useful :).

  5. I just have to say: This is one of the most useful sites on the internet for practicing and wannabe writers. Thank you!!!

  6. Rosi says:

    Thanks for an interesting, informative post. Heist looks like a terrific book. I’ll be looking for it.

  7. LOST is a great example. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the ending, but I was all in, the whole series, through all the weirdness :). As for books, I think Garth Nix does a great job with this, particularly in his Abhorsen series. I never had a problem believing that a world of magic existed right next to the regular world, separated by just a wall. But then, he does so many things right…

    Thanks for posting, Laura!

  8. I loved lost as well. Even though there were logic issues and character s who were introduced and never seen again, I couldn’t wait for the next episode. And not just because of Sawyer.


    Whoops, where was I? Oh yes. I think there’s a lesson in that as well, Laura. I also think a master at getting us to suspend disbelief is Stephen king. You can’t judge his movies the same way, but his books? WOW, he asks a lot of the reader as we follow him into the dark. And we gladly do.

    Thanks so much for stopping in–very excited for HEIST!

  9. JeffO says:

    I think point #1 may be the most important one. Once you establish that premise, you can’t break it, you’ve got to sell it.

  10. Great advice!

    In retrospect I should have always known I was destined to write novels because even my daydreams have to be internally consistent 🙂

  11. Thanks for the insight, Laura. I have pondered this topic myself. Like you, I was able to suspend disbelief with Lost because I loved the characters so much. I think therein lies the key. If you are invested in the characters, you become likewise invested in the story and want to see it come to a satisfying conclusion. I think maybe it becomes a bit harder in contemporary realistic fiction because readers aren’t in the fantastical mind set, but not sure. Again, if I love the characters, I can believe just about anything. Good points and good luck with your book!

  12. Great post, Laura. I agree that there has to be rules of the world for the reader to be able to suspend their belief. If there are, I can easily do it.

    A huge congrats on your new book. It sounds fantastic!

  13. Thanks Angela and Becca! I can’t believe today is Wednesday already!!! Great mention of premises where we have to believe a big lie. But really, every story, since every story is mostly fiction, we have to convince readers to believe in our characters. I love reading stories where the authors makes it easy for me to do that!

    Thanks everyone!

  14. Bish Denham says:

    It’s easy for me to get pulled into the lie. Two places I can think of where I like to wander are Oz and Middle Earth.

  15. Jemi Fraser says:

    Yay for Laura – Heist sounds great!!

    I’m an easy sell too – love to get immersed in new worlds with new characters – but you’re right, once the rules are broken, it’s hard to stay ‘in’ the story!

  16. Kessie says:

    Diana Wynne Jones is excellent on selling you on a crazy premise, and she does it through endearing, relatable characters. The Dog Star Sirius being on trial for murder and being forced to live as a dog on Earth until he clears his name? Bought it. A little boy with nine lives who travels to other worlds in his dreams? Bought it. Seven power hungry mages who farm all the politics and utilities of a town as basis for their power? Bought it. (Dogsbody, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Archer’s Goon.)

    Someday I want to sell a crazy premise to my readers through the likeable, ordinary characters who are dealing with it. 🙂

  17. I like the premise of Heist. It sounds like a really good book. I love time travel, and I like the idea of the “butterfly effect” for YA.

    When I tried to watch Lost, by the way, I was the one who was really lost. I gave up on it.

  18. HEIST sounds fabulous! I love the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. In these books the MC travels back in time to Scotland through a circle of stones. The books are wonderful and have well researched, accurate historical details. Once you believe the “Big Lie” of Claire’s time travel, the rest of the world is 100% believable. Thanks for this great post! = )

  19. Love the premise for Heist!

    Great post, Laura. And you’re right about Lost. I’m just watching the show now, but it definitely asks a lot from the viewer. There have been times when I’ve said, “Yeah, right.”

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