Trailer Time: On Suspending Disbelief

As a Christian, I enjoy fiction that incorporates a Christian worldview into the story.  Not Christian fiction per se, though I read that, too, but I prefer stories in which the characters bring their own Christianity into the story.  Madeleine L’Engle is great about that.

When I clicked on Revival: The True Fairy Tale, I didn’t know it was a work of Christian fiction that also claims to be science fiction.  I mostly clicked on it because I found the title to be ambitious, and probably too pretentious, and I wanted to check the trailer against the preconceptions the title evoked in me.

Judge for yourself:

If you’re like me, you probably had a hard time suspending your disbelief through this trailer.  In case it’s not obvious, a viewer’s (or reader’s) inability to suspend disbelief is bad.  Readers come to a book (usually) willing to suspend their disbelief.  They take a leap of faith and expect the writer to catch them and carry them through to the end.  There are lots of ways to lose a reader when writing a book.  There are lots of ways to drop them or shock them back into their disbelief.  Sometimes it’s a temporary hiccup, but sometimes it shatters the narrative of the book and the reader can’t get it back, can’t follow you through the rest of the story.  This is bad in a book; it’s worse in a piece of marketing.

This trailer starts by introducing the characters with a plain visual background and a heavy-handed musical score that, along with the title, really seems hard to live up to.  What follows is a series of images that seem distorted, and it’s hard to tell how much of that distortion is intentional and how much of that distortion is poor execution.  The animation—for example, the blinking boy—grabs attention, but it jars me out of the trailer.  Please note that we’re 40 seconds into 3 minute trailer.  Not a good sign.

Then, at the 1 minute mark the heavy-handed music turns into crashing symbols and the word “astounding” is highlighted.  And I can’t help but think, “Let me be the judge of that. Saying your book is astounding doesn’t make it so.  You haven’t even begun to convince me yet.”  The trailer has literally lost my attention for 15 seconds, simply because I find that claim unbelievable, and I have to scroll back to catch up.  At this point, I realize that the music is very Christian and that the images are…  Well, I’m thinking that it seems too much like Wizard of Oz and Charlotte’s Web with a little dose of Alice in Wonderland thrown in.  And it’s still lost me.  My skepticism is up, like the bristled back of a cat in full hissing mode, and I can’t seem to suspend my disbelief.  A mix of fantasy, Christian, and horror images scroll by, and I have no idea what’s going on.  What’s the story?  What’s the plot?  Do these images really have anything to do with the story?

And then another audacious claim:  “True Holy Scripture Administered In a Spirit Filled Story.”  Now I’m thinking, “What the…?”  (Yes, that is an accurate reflection of how I try to censor myself from unnecessary profanity.)

I mean, really…  I totally buy that you can mix fantasy and Christian or science fiction and Christian.  I totally get that stories can be true in ways that matter, without being factual, without being real events.  But…  When you compare your own work, your own story, to scripture…

Tangent:  I first read C.S. Lewis in the fourth grade, started in the middle of the series, and stopped because I was confused.  Then, in the fifth grade, I had to read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.  I devoured it.  I read the entire series.  Multiple times.  I was in my twenties before I realized—and I had to be told this—that these books were Christian allegory.  I didn’t know.  And that’s okay.  The stories worked, both as stories and as life lessons from a Christian worldview, whether I recognized the stories as Christian allegory or not.  Granted, the not knowing is probably a rarity—C.S. Lewis was a very public Christian apologetic, after all—but it worked without that, it worked as a story.

So, this in-your-face association makes me wonder if the story can hold up on its own, as a story.  More than that, the claim that the story is scripture is an affront to my sensibilities as a Christian reader.  Overly ambitious and pretentious doesn’t begin to cut it.  It’s the power of words at work.  See, if the writer claimed that hers was “A Spirit Filled Story Inspired by Holy Scripture,” then that would be one thing.  That would be just fine.  Claiming that the story is “True Holy Scripture Administered In a Spirit Filled Story” is something else entirely.  The meaning is entirely different, and the meaning of the latter is at best preposterous, at worst sacrilege.

Then, and keep that hissing cat image in your mind, the trailer challenges my courage with the words “if you dare!”  I mean, really, at this point, not only do I not know the story (a big mistake), but any daring that would be required is how much offense I’m willing to risk.  I have no faith that, whatever story this writer is trying to tell, the writer can pull this story off.  The question is, “Is it worse than I think?  Is it so bad that I couldn’t even finish it?”

Then there’s this claim that it’s sci-fi and the whole thing where nothing I’ve seen suggests science is involved at all.  But, as significant as that might be for another trailer, it’s really beside the point for this one.  Trust and faith is already broken on a much bigger scale.

The point is that marketing a book requires a deft hand.  People who view your marketing materials, like people who read your book, are going to come to your work willing to suspend their disbelief.  But you can lose them at any time.  You have to earn the claims you make, and you have to make only those claims which you can earn within the scope of your material.  Be bold, sure, but don’t overdo it.  Promising too little is problematic, because it’s harder to capture interest and build excitement.  But promising too much is worse, because it breaks trust.  That’s bad enough when you make believable promises and your book doesn’t deliver.  It’s worse when your promises are unbelievable, because even in the unlikely event that your book makes good on all your promises, the potential reader won’t ever know it, because they’ll never read it.

About Stephanie Allen Crist

Stephanie created and produces in answer to a call from God to use her experiences and gifts to help others. Stephanie is also the author of and two books that can be found on that site. Stephanie strives to share her love, faith, and talents in an inclusive manner to help others who know spiritual pain and who know the bitter taste of the dregs of despair.
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13 Responses to Trailer Time: On Suspending Disbelief

  1. acflory says:

    Ugh 😦 Not good. Like you I adored The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe without knowing that it was anything but a great, moving story. Whatever this Revival thing is going to be I doubt that it will be a ‘great, moving story’.

  2. So do I. Writing fiction with an agenda is one thing–and it’s fine. But the story has to be there, and it has to come first, and you have to put it first, even in the trailer. Christian fiction sells, but it’s the story and the worldview people are looking for, not the hit over the head.

  3. Lisa says:

    Trust me …the description is more than perfect. A lot of people that have read the book didn’t even know how to respond. It does take you somewhere; somewhere deep. It is because of the reactions of people why they made the description the way it is. Like watching “The Passion of The Christ”, when people were telling how everyone was silent coming out the theater? You have to experience it for yourself, or else you will think it’s just another book.

    • So, you are claiming that the story is in fact scripture? That an angel of God or His voice dictated this story to a prophet?

      • Lisa says:

        No. I said there was a reason for the authors to build it up in that way of saying “if you dare”. Yes, there are many lines of exact scripture quoted in the book taken right out if the Bible, but of course it’s mixed in with a story. Thus, the “true” “fairytale”. Quite a few people read the book and were left speechless, because it was not what they were expecting at all. I do feel God’s voice in this story, both through scripture and how the authors were led to write this story.

  4. Lisa, what you said was “Trust me …the description is more than perfect.” In my post, I strongly objected to the claim of scripture. By the time the trailer reached “if you dare,” I’d already been lost as a potential reader.

    Quoting scripture doesn’t make a story scripture and it doesn’t make a story a “true fairytale.”

    The title of a story, the book trailer, the website–these are all forms of marketing. Marketing is a means of communicating with your potential audience about the product you are trying to sell them. When you make claims in marketing (especially claims about things people feel passionately about), then you HAVE back them up and they have to be defensible (either true or of an opinion that makes sense).

    Quoting scripture in a book doesn’t make the book “True Holy Scripture.” Think about it this way: The Bible is a concensus; it’s contents have been determined over time by “authorized” people of faith, including some, excluding others, and often changing subtle meanings in the translation process. If you pick up Bibles written by different “authorities,” you can see how these subtle changes make a huge difference. The contents of the Catholic Bible is different from the King James. The translation of the King James is different than the translation of the New International Version. Yet, all these books, despite their differences, are “True Holy Scripture,” because a person of spirit who reads any of them with an open heart, intuned to the Holy Spirit, will receive God’s message from God’s book, because it’s in context.

    You take God’s messages out of context and you can do anything you want with them–anything at all. Scripture passages have been used to justify the Holocaust, to justify and reinforce slavery of African Americans, and to justify hatred and prejudice in many other forms. That does NOT make it TRUE. Nor does quoting scripture make a novel true.

    This post analyzes the marketing of the trailer, not the merits of the book. I found the marketing to be overly ambitious, offensive, and unconvincing.

    • Lisa says:

      And “Trust me …the description is more than perfect” is exactly what I meant. You’re not getting what I’m saying. I did not say the book is another “Bible” to look for Holy Scripture from. First of all, I was strictly talking about the affect of the book; the reactions from people. Second of all, yes, they took exact quotes from out the Bible. Obviously it is from the new King James version. Usually if it is the Catholic, Mormon, etc. Bible they would mention in since the KJ version is the main Bible people think of when you just say “Bible” , but that’s not even the point. You keep saying taking the book out of context which the book does not. Believe it or not, people can keep scripture in context just fine. It can be done.

      Just because the book didn’t fall out of the sky or wasn’t handed to them by and angel of God caught on camera doesn’t mean that they posted scripture out of its context. People can be led by the Spirit to do bold steps in Christ. All the scripture in the book you can find in the Bible, because, like I said, they took exact scripture right out of the Bible.The book says nothing wrong or took any scripture out of context; It’s not confusing. My opinion? They brought more light of understating scripture if anything. The trailer was inspired by people reactions. I heard it leaves “deep conviction” and “soul searching” because the scripture is brought to life. They did once have it just said simple, but people thought it was a children’s book. They added more to the description/ trailer so that people would be warned NO this is NOT a children’s book. YES this is a warning of NO this is NOT your average book/Christian book/whatever. This book will take you places you would never expect. The “true fairytale”. The “true” is the exact scripture quoted right out of the Bible; in italic so that you’ll know it is. The “fairytale” is the creative story they thought of to throw scripture in the mix.
      They did nothing wrong. I saw and read nothing offensive. It’s not overly ambitious. It’s telling it like it is. Unconvincing? Well what book isn’t? Don’t you have to read in order to find out what someone is talking about? I’m telling you they said all what they said for a reason. And personally? Before I would continue anymore judgment, I think it would be wise to read it first.

  5. Lisa,

    You’re not getting it. I don’t care about the effects of the book. I care about the effects of the trailer. This post is an analysis of your marketing, it is not nor has it ever been a book review.

    If someone has to read the book to appreciate the trailer, then it is a BAD trailer! If you have to defend and justify the title of the book, then it is a BAD title! The title of your book and the trailer for your book are supposed to attract new readers. If they don’t speak for themselves, then they don’t work. It’s that simple.

    So, I’m not going to read the book, because I’m not going to buy the book, because the marketing didn’t do its job. The point of this whole post was not to argue against the merits of your book–I don’t claim to do that anywhere, despite what you say. The point of this whole series of posts is to teach writers what to do and what not to do in a trailer. This trailer turned out to be an example of what not to do: namely, making overly ambitious claims you can’t back up in the trailer.

    If it really bothers you that much, then make a better trailer, let me know when its up, and I’ll analyze the new trailer. Who knows? You might even make a trailer that convinces me the book is worth reading.

    • Lisa says:

      Miss Stephanie. Nothing is bothering me about what you say because what you’re talking about is inane. The trailer doesn’t convince you. So what? I sat here and typed why the trailer is the way it is. In other words, someone who has read the book told someone who has not read the book that the trailer/ description lives up to what you claim is “overly ambitious”. It’s time to include that with your opinion now. This could be a commercial about a sandwich from some fast-food place. It overly talks about how good it is. You say “this commercial is overly ambitious and does not convince me that anything about the sandwich will live up to what they are showing me.” You hear from someone that has tried the sandwich that says “it lives up to what they’re telling you in the commercial.” You say “No. I want a better commercial so it will convince me. If I have to try the sandwich to say it’s good then it’s not a good commercial” …??? Common sense would tell me, especially if someone who has tried it has told me the commercial did the sandwich justice, before I say anything else maybe I should try it; taking in the consideration from what I heard others say.

      No. Me telling you the book lives up to its marketing should not have to be included with your decision on whether you think you should be interested or not, but hearing about something you are not familiar with from someone who is familiar, no matter what situation it is, does add onto the advertising. Whether you like it or not, it’s the truth. You had your opinion. I shed more light on the reason of the trailer being the way it is and told you about real reactions. You’re still holding onto what you said before you were told more about it. You’re not making any sense now with what you say. You have more info about it now. Why aren’t you acknowledging it? You shouldn’t shut that out just because you’re stuck on how you first felt about the trailer. Everything counts when it comes to marketing; from trailers and commercials to people talking about it that experienced it for themselves. For future advice, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Listen. Don’t think the road stops at appearance and marketing. If I’m gonna judge a food product by its commercial and claim they’re being “overly ambitious” and ignore it, wanting them to make a better commercial before I decide to be convinced or not, ignoring the voices of people that have tried it and said it is good, who’s the fool? I’m proving nothing and I’m missing out on possibly good food. How will I know until I have tried it?

      It’s not the marketing. It’s the product that matters. Whatever road leads you to that product, let it. You made your point. The trailer did not convince you. I’ve been got that. I told you more about it. That should now be included. Your debate is no longer valid in what you say. Until you try it? Your opinion is now pointless. Judge on advertisement and its feedback next time to get a more rounded and respected opinion.

      • Once again, this is not an attempt to promote (or not) the book, it’s an analysis of marketing. The marketing doesn’t stand on its own. That’s evident and that was the point.

        Secondly, you have not said anything that convinces me that the book lives up to the overly ambitious promises made in the trailer. The trailer says the book is: “True Holy Scripture Administered In a Spirit Filled Story.” Unless the novel is scripture that statement is a lie. You’ve verified that the novel is not scripture, so you reinforced my problem with the trailer.

        I have more information, yes, but I am not at all convinced, even with that more information, that the book is lives up to its promises. Furthermore, I am offended that they compared their novel with scripture in the first place. Your words, comparing to “The Passion of Christ,” doesn’t improve on that.

        If I were ignoring you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I read what you wrote. You have not convinced me to invest my time and money into a copy of this book, and you certainly haven’t convinced me to change my analysis. Your points are now included in the public post that is available to everyone, but I’m not going to change the original post. I’ve had my say, and you’ve had yours.

        And the truth is that nothing you can say can take away the lie of claiming the novel is scripture. At best (and most probable), it’s a poor choice of words (which isn’t a good testimony to the writers, who are telling their story in words). At worst, it’s intentional deception or delusion. Nothing you say can take that back. Nothing you say can justify that choice. From what you have said, a claim of “We included true Holy Scripture in our story!” would have been a true claim; claiming “True Holy Scripture Administered In a Spirit Filled Story” is an entirely different thing with an entirely different meaning.

        Marketing does matter, because marketing makes a promise to the consumer. I am teaching writers how to create effective advertising for their work. Most people who advertise, writers included, don’t get a second shot. Most people who didn’t like the trailer didn’t stick around to discuss it or read what others have to say about it. You can argue all you want that that shouldn’t be the case, but the people I’m doing this for know otherwise and want to do it right the first time, and seeing a variety of trailers, some that work and some that don’t, from a variety of writers helps them do that. My purpose is not to assess this book or even the authors’ marketing, but this one trailer. I did that. You didn’t like it. And that’s fine. But you don’t get to censor my words. Sorry, that’s just not going to happen.

      • Lisa says:

        Where did I say marketing didn’t matter? I said you should look at all sides of the situation before stamping it. You have no case. Innocent until proven guilty is the common sensible route that should always be taken before giving a final verdict; meaning evidence that the book does or does not live up to the trailer which you do not have, because you didn’t read it. You keep repeating the same stuff. “It didn’t convince me”. You’re not convinced. We get that. There is no argument here. It all boils down to “check it for yourself”. And for the last time, yes, there is ‘quoted scripture’ in the book directly from the Bible. No. It is not an attempt to mimic the Bible, but to give more light on scriptures that are in it. You keep twisting my words. This book is not another Bible. Do you understand now?

        And you’re still being inane. It doesn’t matter what marketing ritual which is deemed politically correct. Common sense. Your opinion now makes no sense now that you have more insight. You can repeat anything from what is said in the trailer and say the book doesn’t live up to what the trailer said. Common sense? You can’t say squat that matters now unless you read it. That’s what left. Your words aren’t censored. They’re just cheap. You can’t say anymore that would make me, or anyone with common sense, respect your opinion until you read the book for yourself to see if it lives up to it or not. Yes, those words are pretty promising for any advertisement to say such a thing. But those words do not miss a beat, because they were inspired by reactions, which you now know.

        And as for “not sticking around to read” a book because of an opinionated “bad trailer”, despite ample feedback, is shallow and narrow-minded. Do not reply back and say in any way that I said the book is a mimic of the Bible. It just contains exact scriptures and ‘that’s all’. Do not reply back and say that the trailer doesn’t convince you or it is not done in the right/correct formation. That has been understood for the millionth time. Do not say the book doesn’t not add up to the trailer. You have not read it to say anything on that part. The trailer stays as it is. It lives up to al what it says. That statement is reasonable, because I read it and have witnessed reactions. What do you have to back up your opinion on the book besides “it’s a bad marketing strategy”? Nothing. You can’t get anything across with you say ,because you have nothing to show for it. There’s nothing wrong with professional routine, but is some cases, such as this(feedback and insight of the origin of the trailer’s inspiration), don’t be afraid to play by ear.

  6. Lisa,

    1) You said: “It’s not the marketing. It’s the product that matters.” Direct quote.

    2) I don’t have to look at “all sides” before deciding whether a trailer is good or bad. The trailer speaks for itself, and this one tells lies.

    3) Why in the world would I trust YOUR opinion on what makes a good book, let alone a good Christian book? I don’t know who you are. As far as our mutual experience goes, you are just a name and an e-mail address and a series of irrational comments. You have no credibility beyond your own words, and your own words are not convincing. How is your current behavior supposed to convince anyone that you would recognize scripture quoted out of context versus in context when your behavior doesn’t at all reflect a Christian heart?

    4) I will repeat myself as much as I need to get it through your head: I am NOT judging the book. I AM judging the trailer. I will NOT read a book that cannot be HONEST in the trailer and the trailer claims the book is “True Scripture,” which, by your own admission, is false. If the importance of honesty is something you simply cannot understand, then I suggest you go back to true scripture–the real deal–and read what the Bible has to say about honesty.

    5) I never said you claimed the book was “True Scripture.” Unless, of coure, you created the trailer, which would explain why you claim to know that the trailer was based on readers’ reactions. But, you did just claim: “It is not an attempt to mimic the Bible, but to give more light on scriptures that are in it.” Are you really trying to claim that a work of fiction can shed more light on the Bible or even passages of the Bible than the Bible itself can? Really? Really!?! The Word of God, His divinely inspired text, needs these authors to shed light on it? Wow. Now, tell me again why I should trust your “authority” on the quality of this “Christian” book?

    6) If you insist on trying to bully me, then you will be blocked. The only reason why you have not been blocked yet, is because I am the only you have been attacking. This is my blog and your immature, impolite behavior will not be tolerated. I will not have you scaring off readers who want to engage in polite, intelligent discussions.

    7) Finally, you can’t demand people read a book and expect a positive response. How I spend my money and my time is NOT under your control. Money is tight. There are dozens of books that I’d love to buy right now, but I can’t afford them all. Why would I waste my money on this book just because you demand I do so? Time is precious. There are hundreds of books I’d like to read that I don’t have time to read. Why would I waste my time with this book just because you order me to do so? Sorry, Lisa, it doesn’t work that way. That’s why an effective trailer is important! If the trailer had been honest and appropriate from the start, I would have bought the book, I would have read it, and I would have reviewed it. I love books that combine a Christian worldview with speculative fiction! But I hate dishonesty and I disapprove of people comparing their work to scripture. But this trailer goes even farther than that by claiming the work of fiction it advertises is “True Scripture.” That’s a sin; it’s called sacrilege. So, the trailer backfired. Now, you’re trying to bully me into reading the book and/or taking back what I wrote (which is where the censoring comes in), and neither is going to happen. I’m not impressed by bullies. All you are doing is throwing away what little credibility you had when this conversation started. If you want to go on defending this book, fine; but you will stop trying to bully me or you will be blocked.

  7. Lisa, based on the advice and requests of regular readers of this blog (versus someone who objects to a single post) you have now been blocked. Your posts will no longer be allowed.

    Before you next try to question someone’s intelligence, skill, open-mindedness, or other qualities, I suggest you do two things. First, read a grammar book so you understand the meaning conveyed by sentence structure and word choice. For example, the way you structure a sentence and the words you choose convey a command. You have denied making any such command, and yet your words speak for themselves whether you understand them or not. Second, read a book or two about critical thinking. You might want to start with Aristotle or Plato, though it’s advanced. Logos, pathos, and ethos. Once you understand those you’ll be much better able to make a solid argument that doesn’t require attacking your opponent. Critical thinking skills will enable you to construct an argument, deconstruct others’ arguments, and respond effectively without resorting to logical fallacies.

    Please understand that you have offended and alienated several readers of this blog. Your attempts to defend the trailer and the book have further alienated potential readers of the book because of your reprehensible manners and your irrational arguments. Basically, your comments have “harmed” the book much more than my post ever could have done.

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