Friday, July 12, 2013

Dustin Hoffman Rejects “Suspension of Disbelief” (Tootsie)


There’s a video going viral. It was first published on December 17, 2012 and is a clip from the American Film Institute (AFI) archives. You can see the three minute interview on YouTube. Dustin Hoffman accounts his discussion with the producers of Tootsie. Regarding his character, Dorothy Michaels, if he was going to make the movie he’d have to be the best woman he could be. He would not want to suspend the audience’s believability (in the writer’s vernacular, suspension of disbelief,) and he would have to know that if he walked down the street, no one would say, “Look at that guy in drag.”

I love that dedication. We, as authors, too often want to take the easy way and employ the plot trick “suspension of disbelief.” Sometimes it’s called for, such as when aliens attacked cowboys in the Harrison Ford Sci-Fi Cowboys & Aliens. Or anything having to do with zombies or other-worldly characters. I get that. But at times, we would rather manipulate our research to fit our story than to go the extra mile and make it as true as we possibly can. This, in a sense, is what Hoffman was wanting to avoid.

A well-known editor once told a group of us in her workshop that she had to reject a story because the author had put a “winding and treacherous highway” between Denver and Colorado Springs. Um…they were talking about Interstate 25, and it’s no more winding and treacherous than my driveway. However, they “needed” a winding and treacherous road to fit their story. Anyone living in Colorado or who has visited that area would have been completely thrown out of the story. I, for one, would have lost all respect for that author.smaller

Having said that, (yes, here comes my disclaimer,) when I wrote Fine, Feathered Friend, which is one of three books included in Oregon Weddings, I wanted to set my story in the Crater Lake area. The major setting was a Raptor Rescue Center. There is no such place in the Crater Lake area. I had to use the one in Eugene, Oregon as my template and move it to where I needed it. This, to me, is similar to watching Dustin Hoffman put on the character of Dorothy Michaels. I knew he was a man. The writers never wanted the audience to believe otherwise. But everyone in the story (aside from his friend and sidekick, Bill Murray,) believed he was a woman. I made sure I mentioned in my acknowledgements that it was the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene that I used as research so my readers wouldn’t go flocking (sorry for the pun) to Crater Lake to visit the center. Since I never received hate mail, I believe thisCLEAREST pic worked.

So, basically, know when it’s okay to break the rules, but don’t cheat your reader. Or your editor, because if it doesn’t get past her, it won’t even make it to a reader.

But the above lesson isn’t why the video is going viral. If you haven’t seen it yet, please take the time. Hoffman becomes emotional as he explains how becoming a less desirable woman affected him, and females around the Webiverse are rejoicing. I hope they show it to the men in their lives, as well.

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