For a reader to enter a secondary world so fully that it seems real, Tolkien suggests writers need to cast a spell on the reader.
A writer’s spell must beguile and intrigue enough to take the reader on an incredible adventure that will last for 300 odd pages. If anywhere along that journey the reader stops and says, “Seriously?”…the reader will be rudely jerked back into the real world.
“The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed.”
This can have a devastating effect on the writer, too, with their book relegated to the bottom of a TBR pile or, worse, disposed of without the valued, “You’ve got to read this, you’ll never believe how good it is,” recommendation.
I once ran an impromptu survey on an Amazon fantasy forum, where I asked, What took you out of a fantasy read?
Suspension of disbelief was the oft-repeated answer, expressed in various forms:
build a plausible world
immerse me in a consistent world
An online dictionary defines “Suspension of Disbelief” as: A willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.
So, how do we convince a reader to mentally step into another world and relinquish all doubts for a story’s duration?
We need to cast that spell.
STEPS FOR CASTING AN EFFECTIVE SPELL
Get the ingredients right. Have you interspersed authentic details without historical inaccuracies or conflicting information? Have you used the correct ingredients in the right quantities? Information dumps can be as disastrous as adding too much salt to a dish. Have you stirred in the proper amount of narrative, dialogue, description, action, emotion, and tension? Is there adequate white space?
No mistakes in the incantation. Did you avoid over-blown language and bad grammar? Typos are acceptable in the first draft, not the final. Have you proofread, proofread, proofread? If you answered yes, well done! Did you print it out to proof it? No? Do that, because what we miss on the computer screen can often be caught on paper. All done? Excellent. Now get someone else to do a final read through. No matter how great we are at finding other people’s mistakes, we can still entirely miss our own.
Is the moon in the right phase? Did you choose the perfect setting? Eliminate superfluous details to focus on the most pertinent aspects of every scene? Is each setting necessary to move the story forward? Does it add enrichment to the story? Develop character? Strum the story’s theme?
Is the spell caster ready? Have you groomed the main character until he is likable, skillful and engaging enough to carry the entire story? Even more importantly, be she were-creature, extraterrestrial or ordinary, is the character quintessentially human? By that I mean, despite having a myopic viewpoint or
Has the spell been well rehearsed? Have you written enough? Learned and grown in your craft until you are able to convey your vision with confidence, style, panache? Is this the best work you’ve ever produced? It’s said that luck is often preparation meeting opportunity. Are you prepared?
Is this the right spell? Have you researched the market, read in the genre and appropriately matched story to reader? There is a dangerous side to this step. Chasing a trend is akin to trying various spells because it’s working for others. Is this story right for you? This also speaks to Step 7.
Do you believe the spell will work? Do you believe in your story? Is it from your heart? Is it the story you’ve been dying to tell all of your life?
Is the universe on your side? To cast a good spell, you absolutely need a pinch of magic.
My best advice on how to draw that pinch of magic our way is to write and learn and edit, then repeat. Our goal as writers is to draw readers into our story and keep them there. To make a tale so compelling, the reader believes in our story world.
Achieving the above involves a reader/writer partnership in which the writer signs a contract with the reader to provide a guaranteed, unbreakable enchantment. Once the spell is cast, and it’s done correctly, fairies come out to play.