This post is by Jason Hellerman from No Film School

Have you ever watched a movie or series and you don’t fully buy into the world? Maybe things get too unbelievable too fast, or you don’t feel like the rules established make sense or stay true to themselves.

If so, it’s likely the world building that’s pulling you away from the story. Taking you out of Westeros, or Narnia, or what have you, and inciting an issue with suspension of disbelief.

That’s why in this piece we’re going to go over that principle and show how it allows the audience to be completely immersed in the world. It’s the invisible thread that weaves through the fabric of storytelling, binding viewers to the narrative.

And if you don’t have it, you’ve lost your audience. Then what?

Let’s dive in and see what we can uncover.

Suspension of Disbelief Definition

Suspension of Disbelief Definition

Suspension of disbelief is a fundamental concept in the world of film and television, essential for the enjoyment and engagement of audiences in storytelling.

The term refers to the willingness of an audience to overlook the wondrous and fantastical parts of a narrative, allowing themselves to be fully immersed in the story, regardless of how improbable the plot might be.

The Origin of Suspension of Disbelief 

The term “suspension of disbelief” was first coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the famous poet and philosopher, in the early 19th century.

“That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith”.

It speaks to the unspoken contract between storytellers and their audience, wherein viewers agree to accept the narrative presented to them.

What Is Its Role in Storytelling?

Brie Larson as Captain Marvel holding a piece of broken door in 'The Marvels'

In film and TV, suspension of disbelief is crucial. It allows viewers to engage with stories that have elements of fantasy, science fiction, or supernatural occurrences without being constantly reminded of the implausibility of these elements.

It’s the bridge between “That could never happen” and “That could totally happen (in this movie or TV show).”

For example, audiences can enjoy superhero movies without questioning how a character can fly or have superhuman strength.

This willingness to suspend disbelief is what makes genre fair accessible.

Techniques to Foster Suspension of Disbelief

  1. Consistency in Worldbuilding: A narrative must establish its own set of rules and stick to them. Even if these rules differ from real-world logic, consistency makes the story’s world believable and immersive.
  2. Compelling Characters and Storylines: Strong character development and engaging storylines can divert the audience’s attention from fantastical elements in the narrative, focusing instead on the characters’ journeys and emotions.
  3. Cinematic Techniques: Skillful use of cinematography, sound design, and editing can enhance the realism of a film or TV show, even when the narrative delves into the wondrous.

The suspension of disbelief is a vital component of storytelling in film and TV. It allows audiences to escape into worlds of fantasy and imagination, forming an essential part of the magic of cinema and television.

As technology and storytelling techniques continue to evolve, so too will the ways in which filmmakers and storytellers engage audiences, asking them to suspend their disbelief in new and exciting ways.

Let us know if we’ve suspended your disbelief in the comments.