The first thing we covered in the online class on paranormal romance I found myself taking was suspension of disbelief. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that it would need to be explained; I take suspension of disbelief pretty seriously, to the point where it occasionally prevents me from performing what would otherwise be relatively clean fixes on my plots (yeah, this and this and this would work, with the one problem that with these characters and this metaphysics IT WOULDN’T HAPPEN EVER, so let’s try something else). I know, though, that not everyone has quite had it explained to them.
The corresponding assignment was interesting. The instructor asked for a list of paranormal romance elements that my suspension of disbelief could wrap itself around easily, and a list of elements it couldn’t—fair enough, though a touch tricky, since I was looking at it purely in terms of worldbuilding, and I’m willing to tolerate a lot. The following is what I responded with, after about an hour of thought and noodling around.
It’s hard for me to really list off things specific to the paranormal genre that don’t break my suspension of disbelief; I can suspend for almost anything, so it ends up being a ridiculously long list. Of note, though, are:
- Direct adaptations of existing mythology. If a legendary creature was good enough for an entire culture to keep it somewhere in their collective vision of the world, it’s good enough for me.
- Generally inhuman behavior. Not only does this not break my suspension of disbelief, it outright encourages it. I want my mythical creatures inscrutable, with habits and limitations that just plain don’t make sense to most people.
- Obscure weaknesses of mythical creatures. Not only does it tell me the writer’s done the homework, but it dovetails with the inhuman behavior; it’s a Mythical Creature thing. I like my dragons sated and sleeping after a large trough of milk, and my vampires obsessively counting grains of rice or being barred entry from a domicile by the presence of wild rose.
- Shapeshifters! I can forgive almost anything if there’s a shapeshifter involved; unless they’re going from Godzilla to flea in half a second, I can even ignore the question of where all the mass goes or comes from. And purely-human ’shifters are just so much fun!
If my suspension of disbelief is going to break, it’s not usually from the metaphysical elements; as long as someone gives me a reasonably consistent explanation, I can deal with almost anything. There are a very few things that kick me out, though.
- Soulmating and its various permutations. I may someday devote an entire blog post to ranting about the idea that an apex predator among apex predators (particularly a vampire; weres at least have the excuse of being on and off) is somehow going to end up in a mutually dependent relationship with something that is a. its prey and b. going to live a very small fraction of its life if both halves of the couple are lucky. Even when it doesn’t already have the above issues going against it, the common spec-fic idea that every conflict could be avoided by people being pretty much in each other’s minds throws me right out of suspension of disbelief.
- Supernaturals that don’t seem all that inhuman. If I want to read about people who look and act like humans, I won’t read genre. Anything that lives beyond a human lifespan, or feeds on things that we don’t, or has senses that we don’t, is going to experience the world in ways that we don’t. If I’m not getting that experience, I’m out of there.
- Impossibly powerful creatures nobody whatsoever knows about. I recognize the importance of a Masquerade to keeping an Earth-equivalent relatively recognizable, but sometimes the ability, and more often the willingness, of certain creatures to stay unrecognized drives me up the wall. If they don’t have weaknesses that put them on a level where a lucky human or a large group of humans could stand against them, then why haven’t they just taken over yet and spared themselves the trouble of life in the shadows? I need at least some sort of compelling reason why we aren’t all bowing to our [insert-type-here] overlords, or at the very least why they insist on staying hidden.