Whenever you read a book, something rides shotgun on your shoulder, an internal filter, if you like. Its purpose is to check for things that don’t work – be it because you know that’s not true or you don’t believe that could happen. I’m sure you can think of examples – the idiot who insists on checking that creak on the stair, alone, in the dark, when two of her friends have already died a gruesome death. Or the hero miraculously appears from somewhere, just in time. Or the way all the planets out there seem to have the same gravity as Earth with breathable atmosphere.
It’s up to the author to ensure that filter in people’s brains is never activated. Or if it is, it doesn’t override the impulse to read the book. This is particularly true in genre fiction like science fiction and fantasy because of the world building aspects. You don’t ever want somebody reading your work to sit back and say ‘I don’t believe that’.
A reader/watcher can become so engrossed in the story that the filter doesn’t work at all. Let me give you an example. I fell in love with Star Wars went I went to see The Empire Strikes Back. Sure, I have a history degree, but astronomy and cosmology have fascinated me for years. I read about stars, I was familiar with the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram, I had my own astronomical telescope. I giggled in Star Wars episode 4 (A New Hope) when Han Solo purported to have done ‘the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs*’. And yet, even after watching TESB a dozen times, I had to read in an article somewhere, the story’s biggest flaw. Want to guess? Or do you already know? The Millenium Falcon’s hyperdrive failed. And yet the ship made it to Bespin (pretty far) without either Han or Leia collecting a grey hair. Let’s put that into perspective. The nearest star to us (apart from Sol) is over four light years away. Even travelling at light speed that’s a four year trip. So my in-built belief-suspender was glued to the seat, watching the movie.
On the other hand, when I watched the movie ‘The Rock’ (Sean Connery – they had to break INTO Alcatraz) there’s this scene where the guys have to get underneath a thing rather like a piston. Sean had done it many years ago, when he was the only person to escape the famous prison. So we’re watching this sequence. I sat back, turned to the OH and said, ‘OK, he had to do that to get out. But why don’t they just use that door over there?’
That was the end of that movie for me.
What about you? Care to share some examples?
*parsec is a measure of distance, not time. Definition here