How many of you have sat through a "Tarzan" movie and never wondered why the hero is clean-shaven, decently groomed hair and smells remarkably unlike a barnyard? And the heroine has 14 changes of clothes from a tiny suitcase that broke open then washed up on shore. As the viewer, you may have scoffed at it; even leaned over to the person next to you and commented on it. But did it destroy you pleasure in viewing the movie? Probably not.
In writing, the obvious suspension of disbelief (SOD) would occur in paranormal books. Vampires, werewolves etc mingling with present day humans, owning cell phones and driving cars. Or in sci-fi books where aliens transport to Earth and live unseen among us.
But I'm talking about SOD in contemporary books. Any contemporary book has the disadvantage of the critiquer, editor or reader all living in the same era and potentially experiencing the same things. Therefore, they put their opinions on their SOD.
To cite a bizarre example. Say the book you are reading is an action war drama. The hero and his platoon are caught in a vicious firefight. The soldiers are pinned down and are being wounded or killed every few moments. Their bullets seem to miss their targets but the enemy's fire is getting through. You are willing to believe the disconnect of the gunfire as the writer has gripped your attention with the sounds and smells of the scene. Then the enemy suddenly stands up and starts singing and dancing the latest routine from Glee.
You might keep reading. Overwhelming curiosity might prod you into seeing if the writer can pull such a scene flip off or you might toss the book aside and go for a long walk. Why? From general knowledge, the enemy doesn't usually dance during battle. I studied history and I don't recollect my professors ever mentioning this. So your perception of life affected your suspension of disbelief. Maybe there is some Amazonian tribe that does this – to confuse the enemy. And if you had heard about that tribe then you might read the scene without a second thought.
What is this leading to? When editing or critiquing someone's one work be aware of your bias. Before you highlight a section and comment – Why did the character do this? or This is too out of character for this person? – think about why the author might have chosen their character to do this? Remember you are reading with a tight focus and a problem presented does not have to be explained immediately. Let the writer and the characters get to it.
A few years ago, I had a small scene in a chapter ripped apart by a critique partner. She went on for half a page as to why the scene was wrong and why the character wouldn't do "it". Yet, I wrote the scene from true life. Then, as it happened, it was as irritating and confusing as it turned out in the book. When I thanked the critique partner for her efforts, I politely commented that the scene that so riled her was an actual event. She refused to believe me and said that it ruined the story for her.
Sadly being an inexperienced writer, I modified the scene, even though 4 other critiquers had no problem with the section. But that suggests a later post of "sticking to your guns."
Critiquing or editing is a hard task. But we must do it without letting our personal bias cloud our efforts.
Is there a moment when you just couldn't take a book, movie or TV show anymore? Your suspension of disbelief was shot. Mine was the movie Centerstage. I have some experience as a dancer and in the movie, a ballerina with no jazz dance training takes her first jazz dance class. When they get to the choreography part of class, she watches the males do their section of the routine, then she scurries to the front of the group and leads them in a routine she has never seen before. I almost threw my popcorn at the screen.