word craft


What does logic have to do with it?

City of OrphansOne of the most dif­fi­cult aspects of writ­ing a nov­el is estab­lish­ing the log­ic of the plot and of the char­ac­ters. It is rare to speak of log­ic in this con­text, but I’m con­vinced it is a key com­po­nent. It’s all the more cru­cial, because the read­er does not (con­scious­ly) think of nar­ra­tive in this way. Yet, if the read­er can­not fol­low the log­ic of cause and effect, of moti­va­tion, of an unrolling sequence, you will lose your read­er. For the writer com­pos­ing real­is­tic fic­tion it is eas­i­er to catch a fail­ure of that log­ic. If writ­ing fan­ta­sy, it is too easy to fudge the log­ic. I recall edi­tor Ruth Katch­er telling me that fan­ta­sy needs to be writ­ten like his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. That is, it must fol­low con­sis­tent facts—even if they are made-up facts. And, once, my late friend Bob Cormi­er, (I am the Cheese, The Choco­late War) told me, “I allow myself only one coin­ci­dence a book.” Yet a recent book of mine, City of Orphans, is pred­i­cat­ed on a series of acknowl­edged coin­ci­dences. I think the book works because it is about those coin­ci­dences, what my nar­ra­tor choos­es to call “God’s small mir­a­cles.” It’s a good exer­cise to look at a descrip­tive paragraph—even each sentence!—you have writ­ten. Does the sequence of detail, events, emo­tions, fol­low upon one anoth­er in a log­i­cal way? Does it lead—logically—somewhere? It is much more pow­er­ful when it does. It may seem exag­ger­at­ed to sug­gest that a nov­el con­sti­tutes a long, log­i­cal sequence of events but I think, when it is well-writ­ten, it does. Think about it. Logically.

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