Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Handling Logic Flaws In Your Stories

It’s fun creating our own worlds. We spend months (or years) developing them, designing intricate rules for how the characters live, how the system of magic/science/steampunk operates, how the government works, and best of all, how everything interconnects. We write a story based on that world, using as many of those rules as possible, constantly on the lookout for any logical flaws that might derail the story. Finally, filled with the flush of victory, we present out baby to our critique partners, expecting its awesomeness to knock them off their feet. 

And then, of course, our CPs point out a glaring logical inconsistency that somehow escaped our notice. Arg! Even worse, this flaw often turns out to be a necessary component of the storyline and can’t be removed without gutting the story. Double Arg!

I’m pretty sure this happens to all writers. Just think of all the mistakes you’ve spotted in television shows and movies. Visit sites like How It Should Have Ended or Cinema Sins (both highly recommended) and you’ll see what I mean. The question isn’t how it happens. The real question is what do you do after your critique partner has left and you’ve finished off that stiff drink resting in your hand.

Well, you can ignore the problem and hope your critique partner is the only reader who’ll ever catch it. Probably not a good bet. Established authors sometimes get away with this, but only because their readers often give them the benefit of the doubt. But new authors and self-published authors rarely enjoy that kind of consideration, and once a reader spots one mistake, he’ll start looking for others (even if only subconsciously).

Another option is to create new rules to explain away the inconsistency, but this path has its own problems. If the new rules are too convoluted, you risk confusing the reader or slowing the story down while you explain. Another downside is that if the new rules are somewhat cheesy or artificial, you’ve just aimed a giant spotlight on a problem you hoped no one would notice in the first place.

So if you can’t ignore the problem and you can’t/don’t want to explain it either, what’s the solution? Simple. Just have the MC, or one of the other characters, remark on the inconsistency and move on.

Consider the following example. In Brandon Sanderson’s Alloy of Law, the MC has the ability to mentally Push against anything containing iron, and one of his many tricks is to Push outward from his whole body, creating a sort of defensive bubble that helps deflect bullets headed his way. The problem with this trick, of course, is that it should also knock the gun out of the MC’s own hand. But instead of trying to explain why this doesn’t happen, Sanderson simply lets the MC ponder on it for a second.

“He wasn’t even certain how he did it; Allomancy was often an instinctive thing for him. Somehow he even managed to exempt the metal he carried, and didn’t Push his own gun from his hands.”

See how simple that was? By letting the MC (and therefore the author) acknowledge the inconsistency, the reader now accepts that this is the way the story world works without any further explanation. Readers appreciate all the time you’ve spent creating your world, and they’ll let you get away with quite a lot as long as they know you know about the problem. Try watching shows like Agents of Shield or Almost Human. It’s hard to write an hour long science fiction show every week without some running into a few logic flaws here and there, which is why you’ll often find one of the show's characters mention the logical flaw(s) themselves in the first five or ten minutes of the show. Because once that’s done and over with, the writers can get on with the story.

What's your favorite logical flaw from a book or movie?


11 comments:

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    1. I'm sure I'll be using that trick once I go back over my story looking for problems.

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  2. Oh yes, I certainly make this mistake, too - and I love your simple solution!! SO much better than revising thirteen chapters... :)

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    1. It's amazing how many little tricks there are for keeping the reader engaged. I wish someone would put them all together in a book sometime. Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. That is a slick maneuver, Ken. Curses to logic flaws! I'm usually the one that catches them in my crit group.

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    1. Me too. Logic flaws are much easier for me to spot then emotional arc issues, or showing vs. telling, or....

      You get the picture.

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  4. That's a great strategy, Ken. Almost Human is one of my favorite new shows!

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    1. Yeah, too bad they're talking about cancelling it. It's one of the few science fiction shows that works

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  5. Most excellent strategy and insight, Ken. I'll definitely be bookmarking this one!

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  6. Yep, I'm the one who catches them too. Unless they're mine. I laughed at the short video of how "Lord of the Rings" should have gone when I watched it months ago. Eagles both directions, all that time and energy saved.

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  7. Yup. Works for other things readers might scoff at, like stupid/goofy character lines or behavior. Let that character or another one think or remark about it and move on. The reader's thought is validated, and they settle back into the story.

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