Logic, suspension of disbelief

There are people who go through life believing ‘If I buy kippers it will not rain’ and whose heads manage to hold mutually contradictory ideas at the same time. Unfortunately, these are not good traits – for anyone, but especially for writers.

‘Oh, but you just make stuff up. It doesn’t have to be logical. It’s fiction!’ Well, there IS a market for illogical stories – the same people who go and buy kippers etc. But that is a relatively small section of the market, and usually quite saturated – because it is easy. For the rest of us, it has to make logical sense. The character needs motive, the character needs ability, needs the opportunity. Without any of those three, he or she won’t take the action.

The writer creates Fred. Fred wants to be a hero like Ted, because Ted has girls hanging around him, and Fred would like that. He has motive to do something heroic. He found an old sword and he can swing it around. The blade has runes on it that read Orc’s bane. He has an ability. A bunch of orcs show up and attack the village. He has the opportunity. The reader can easily accept Fred the orc-killing hero.

The writer describes Fred who doesn’t want to be hero, because it is dangerous. He found the old sword… but he won’t fight unless he’s cornered. The writer has to write Fred into that corner – or the reader won’t believe Fred fighting off Orcs. Now that is plausible, but without adding in the motive of being cornered, the reader is going to roll his eyes, and chuck the book across the room against the wall. With luck it is not a kindle.

The point with this is fiction needs to make sense to draw the reader in. Non-fiction is in some ways easier, because while motive, ability and opportunity have to exist, the reader will accept that they’re there somewhere. It will eventually make some kind of sense. If they know it is fiction, for obvious reasons, they don’t know that.

The interesting thing about this is that while it is possible to lose readers at any time, it is really really easy before they’ve engaged in the story. Further in, well, they’re enjoying the characters, enjoying the story, they’ll cut you a little slack. They may well, afterwards, sit and say “gee, that didn’t make sense.” – which might make it harder to sell them the next one, or make them more critical the next time.

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

20 thoughts on “Logic, suspension of disbelief

  1. It’s easy to write a world in which Jane buys kipper, and it doesn’t rain because of it. Though it makes it hard on her during a drought.

  2. If Fred uses the “orc-bane” sword to slice his kippers, the orcs might show up smelling strongly of fish. That could be a biological weapon, no? It might also mean Fred had been weighed in the scales and found wanting . . . Oops!

  3. While Fred is out in the rain slaying orcs with his magic sword, Ted is huddling with the girls in the basement, “protecting” them in his big, strong arms. After, the girls dote on Ted for caring so much while scorning Fred who is covered in blood and stinks of orc guts. Ted takes both girls to the prom. Fred throws the sword back in the lake.

    Too much realism can be a bad thing.

    1. Especially if you stop the realism short– so, right there.

      Fred doesn’t go to the prom. Or he does, but isn’t in the thick of it.

      There’s other people also hanging back. Because Ted and his followers are … well, the kind of asses that do that stuff already shown.

      Some of the folks who are there solo are also girls, but ones that Fred hadn’t noticed, because they weren’t hanging on anybody.

      One of the hanging-back folks– can be male or female– complements how Fred did the hard work during the attack, and they get to talking.

      Fred ends up with friends, one of whom is a girl, and becomes a special friend.

      Wink, wink.

      Fred eventually figures out he didn’t want “girls,” exactly, he wanted love– both friend, and romantic.

      … if Ted ever finds out he doesn’t HAVE love is up to the author. It usually takes many years for those poor twits to discover that, and it’s usually too late when the figure out why they’re miserable.

  4. Well, it can be amusing when a character’s logic isn’t based on facts especially when another character knows the facts so sees the problems with the other character’s logic. 😉

    1. Several times I remind students “This can’t be fiction, because fiction has to make sense.” For example, the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. Even Tom Clancy couldn’t get away with that one.

      1. I recall even David Drake had issues with that one. In the author’s afterword he mentioned there were things that happened in the actual battle that were so mindbogglingly insane that he couldn’t include them in the novel.

        Such as, the flagship got captured, in part, because it was firing blanks the entire engagement…

  5. There’s a video on… I think it’s Creativity Stream… about “visual logic.”

    You know how in cartoons somebody will look at a startling thing, and their eyes pop out of their head? That makes visual sense, and they can even describe the “physics” of how it works.

    Or that old cartoon where tugging on the cow’s tail makes her neck-bell ring.

    Reality is logical, but not obvious and reasonable; narrative has to be reasonable/rational, and should be satisfying. If you’ve got to swallow that tugging on the cow’s tail does something besides get you kicked, you need a payoff– like the funny of the not-really-connected bell ringing.

  6. “Fiction must be plausible. Reality just has to happen.”

    I’m sure we’ve all had implausible things happen to us, that would cause us to at least groan if encountered in print. What are the odds that the ONE Japanese scout plane headed in the right direction to spot the U.S. carriers at Midway was late taking off, AND THEN had a radio failure? Either one would be called a contrived plot point, but BOTH? Give me a break!

    1. The radio failure you can actually work in. The entire area was under a nasty solar storm at the time so no one’s radios were working right.

      So work in foreshadowing with the USN having trouble getting through with their radios, and the IJN pilots complaining about how useless their radios are and pulling them out.

      Actually most of the major Pacific air battles happened during heavy solar storm activity. I almost wonder if it was the radio breakdowns that may have lead to the fleet actions happening in the first place?

    2. How about all those different US carrier and Midway bomber attacks hitting over hours and in such a way to make Nagumo constantly change his mind about whether he should hit Midway or the US carriers first?

  7. A character at rest will remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force.
    A character in motion will remain in motion until acted upon by an outside force.

    It’s free form pinball. Don’t tilt.

  8. Yep, wartime ‘happenings’ never follow the ‘logic trail’… But your fiction has to.

  9. Some months ago, one of my Fb observations of some politically-indelicate (i.e. non-Left-affirming) obvious fact was dismissed with “He writes science-fiction: he can’t tell the difference between made-up worlds and reality.” I didn’t answer in-thread, but I believe my thought was “You really don’t have the first clue what goes into this, do you? What a redshirt! Thanks for volunteering!”

    I’ve forgotten what the topic was, but I remembered the name. Just in case I need a stooge for an ignominious death scene.

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