The suspension of disbelief is called “verisimilitude.” Besides being a great word, it’s an important aspect for writers to consider.
Many years ago David Duchovney was a guest on a talk show, and he mentioned a movie he had starred in titled Return to Me (2000) about a man whose wife was killed in a car accident, and whose heart was transplanted into another woman. The plot revolved around Duchovney’s heartache, and subsequent love for the woman who received his wife’s heart.
He said he heard from many people who told him that the story was not believable, and that it could never happen. The funniest part of the interview was that he said not one person had ever said that to him during his years of filming “The X-Files,” the series about finding extraterrestrials.
Readers or viewers won’t buy into a story if they don’t believe the premise, the plot or the characters. Why did viewers believe the plots about aliens, but not about a man loving two women with the same heart?
Genre can also play into the suspension of disbelief. Martial artists and action heroes may be able to perform feats beyond the realm of possibility, but the same is not true for the “best friend” in a romantic comedy.
Suspension of disbelief is the ability to create a world that is believable, and accept the premise as being real for the duration the story. The story must be consistent within the premise, however extreme. The magic in Harry Potter isn’t possible in this world, but the magical wizardry is consistent within its own world, which makes it believable. Readers and viewers went along for the ride as the wonders of his world were revealed to him. His discoveries were our discoveries. We soon learned, as did Harry, that anything was possible.
Be consistent when creating worlds for your characters to inhabit. They can be unusual, but they have to be consistently unusual!