One of my favourite shows in the history of ever is Doctor Who. I remember a little of the original series and though I enjoyed it, it never captured me the way the new series has. Now I just need to hear the theme song and my mood improves. I get all dork-buckety and start speaking in a mock English accent. Ehlaoh.
There are a hundred reasons to love Doctor Who – the adventure, the humor, the wildly inventive stories – but I think the biggest reason I’ve come to love the Doctor is character.
I started with the wonderful Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor. His devil-may-care attitude and his ability to convey intense emotion with the merest shift in facial expression held me spellbound. Billie Piper as Rose Tyler was impossible not to watch, and impossible not to root for. She seemed human. Fragile. But also blessed with an intrepid curiosity that made us believe she would climb into that phone box with a Yorkshire-voiced alien. Rose and the Doctor were a winning team and I was ready to follow them anywhere across space and time.
But then the unthinkable happened. Christopher Eccleston left. Regenerated right out of the Tardis. Sure, it was part of the script but I was heartbroken. The role of the Doctor would now be played by some guy called David Tennant. It was a sad end to what could have been the best television series ever. No one could replace Eccleston as the Doctor because he was so perfect: muscular, energetic, occasionally manic. He was, as he would say, fantastic. Now I was stuck with a wispy Scotsman I’d never heard of. This would suck. This would be the end of the show…
Fiction writers are liars. Liars, thieves, and con artists. We make things up and try to pass them off as true. And thank god for that. (Tweet this.)
In our culture, lying is not often considered a useful, valuable skill (except in politics, but more about that later). For a fiction writer, however, whipping up a mess of lies and distortions is not just a skill, it’s a virtue.
Now let’s be clear, nobody reads a story hoping to be lied to. Just like no one drinks water hoping it will be wet – it’s expected. The word “fiction” means “a belief or statement that is false.” The irony, of course, is that people read stories in order to suspend disbelief and enter a world that seems… true.
Every reader has had that experience. You’re reading a book and you fall into its reality.
You can feel the heavy jeans sticking to your legs, hear the squeak of wipers on the bus window, sense the rush of water thundering through the tire wells.
It’s as though we’ve been transported into another reality and we willingly surrender our disbelief to enjoy it (or enjoy hating it).
So how is it done? How do storytellers make us believe in make-believe?*