How to Use Details to Suspend Disbelief

How to Use Details to Enhance Readers’ Suspension of Disbelief

How to Use Details to Suspend DisbeliefTruth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is plenty strange, especially in this era of vampires, dragons, time travel, and who knows what else!

Because readers are accustomed to far-out premises that stretch reality all out of shape, most won’t blink an eye at a story that features any number of unbelievable phenomena.

But that doesn’t let writers off the hook. If you don’t do your darndest to make these unbelievable characters every whit as believable as your readers’ own lives, they won’t find your stories convincing—and they’re going to put them down.

Convincing Details Are the Key to Making the Unrealistic Seem Realistic

So how can you help readers suspend their disbelief in the imaginary world of your stories—whether that world is another planet, another country, or even just small-town Americana?

The key isn’t so much writing realistic fiction. In fact, readers love unrealistic fiction (just think of enduring cult classics such as Star Trek and Indiana Jones).

Specificity Creates Suspension of Disbelief

Rather, the key is creating a world so explicit in detail readers can’t help but believe what you’re telling them.

Reflex Steven Gould

Reflex by Steven Gould (affiliate link)

Steven Gould’s well-crafted science-fiction thriller Reflex, which features protagonists who are capable of teleporting, masterfully uses details in every aspect of the story—whether it’s the food selection in New York City or the physics of teleportation.

Readers never doubt the existence of so specific a world. Via his deft descriptions and use of telling details to enliven his story, Gould presents a convincing background to his complicated tale. This allows readers to worry about more important things—such as his plot—rather than doubting the plausibility of his setting.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What do you think is your greatest challenge for suspension of disbelief in your story? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Very useful tips

  2. Glad they were helpful!

  3. excellent point–for me the trick is finding that balance between telling and showing… great vlog! 😀

  4. Finding that balance is the trick for all of us!

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  6. A helpful tip and I’m definitely putting REFLEX on my TBR list, because it sounds interesting!

    As for writing with detail, I believe that a writer shouldn’t write in too much detail because that might bore the reader. There must be a perfect balance of detail when writing a story.

    Still, great tip and recommendation. Write on!

  7. An effective use of detail is all about selecting the right detail. Sometimes all you need is one good detail to bring a scene to life. Use specific nouns and verbs, and you’ll be fine.

  8. I’ve always believed that all fiction is built upon a superstructure of truth. These details are one mode through which to create that “truth.”

  9. It’s always said that the most believable lie is one that’s 99% truth. That goes for fiction too.

  10. Nice thought!

  11. Brilliant! Thanks Katie 🙂

  12. I don’t remember what post I commented and I can’t find it anymore. (I wish there was a way to follow up on my questions after posting.) I get no notification or link back unless I bookmark it and check manually.

    Anyways I found this post very relevant to my situation/ problem.

    I posted a question about having a supporting/ main character become a deserter in a war scene. I gave some manuscripts for my friend to read that involved references to this moment. He told me how unrealistic it was for someone to desert a war scene to without consequences that would ultimately end the POV character.

    But after talking and brainstorming I went through my mind and fleshed out a bit more backstory to the character. His motives, and desires, personal beliefs. The colony culture and how that that could lead up to the character’s decision. We came up with the term: Conscientious objector, and all of a sudden, that bit of change made my friend much more excited to learn about the character and see how that decision plays out in the story.

    It interests me enough now he wants me to write out the “backstory” as its own story.

    Funny how just a few changes like becoming aware of a character’s motivations and upbringing can affect the believability of a key plot moment. It also helps a lot to talk to friends about tricky subjects and possible stumbling blocks.

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