I’ve just discovered something about myself. I’m a great audience.
I’m a sucker for a story. It doesn’t even have to be a good story—just not a bad one. I realized this while going through my recent reading list.
To understand this it helps if you know a little about a popular theory of art called the Suspension of Disbelief.
The suspension of disbelief (also the willing suspension of disbelief) is an unconscious contract that a reader (or watcher, etc.) gives to the storyteller (or artist). It’s easiest to explain by example.
When you are in a theater watching the latest Indiana Jones movie you accept that the story you are going to be told is a little outlandish, that the hero will be the beneficiary of extraordinary luck, that it’s fundamentally OK that hundreds of people are going to die, and that there are limits to the level of special effects, and your mind makes allowance for these things as you watch the show.
The suspension of disbelief is necessary to enjoy the story being told. If you did not suspend disbelief you would question how it’s possible for a man with a whip to defeat an army with guns. And you’d be right. But you wouldn’t be enjoying the show.
So, a few days ago, while reorganizing my bookshelf—reshelving the ones I’d just read or pulled out to reference, pulling out other I had yet to read, or want to reread again—I realized that in the last month or so I’d read a lot of pulp.
I’m no snob when it comes to novels. True, some of my favorite stories came down from heavy hitters—Poe, Shakespeare, Dumas…—I also greatly enjoy the thrillers so often trashed by the literati. Heck, I actually liked The DaVinci Code…both times I read it. I think Stephen King is a master storyteller, no matter that he writes horror and bestsellers, both of which are a kiss of death among literature snobs.
I think what it comes down to is that I just enjoy reading so much that you’ve got to present me with a pretty bad book for me not to get caught up in it.
And I do get caught up.
I never figure out the killer before it’s revealed. The surprise ending that surprises no one, almost always surprises me. When an author kills off the secondary character that everyone liked, but that every other reader knew was going to die, I get upset.
See the thing is, I love stories. I love good plots, even if the characters are boring. If you’ve got no plot, but the characters are interesting you’ve still got me hooked. Even if those are so-so, but you’re a good writer, I’ll still enjoy the journey.
And to take it a step further, I love writing. One of my favorite books is about the impact of the Bill of Rights on modern life. Not much storytelling going on in there.
I suppose there are writers out there who would think this a weakness—that I can’t tell the difference between good and bad writing, or good and bad books.
I choose to look at it a little differently. I see it as a plus. I still love writing. I haven’t become so cynical that I have to look down my nose at what I don’t believe measures up to my standards.
Or to put it a different way…when I read, I still get to be a kid.