Logic is a cornerstone of my writing, snug above readability and below emotional connectivity, and I’m always mindful of my five W’s in every scene where they need be. Yet, there’s always a certain thrill, a wild spice to breaking this rule from time to time. Sometimes it’s to establish tension through missing information, other times it’s some fanciful, but often results-lacking, experimentation. But the most fun reason to mess with the logic of my stories is just that; a tipping thrill.
It must’ve been near a decade ago as I started writing when I sought out the age old maxim that a writer needs to be a sadist to their own characters so the plot can move along, character development can begin, and to give the audience something to bite into. Heeding this advice I developed a character that bent and shattered the accepted status quo of a society that held Running Manesque death battles for condemned beings from across the universe. Mainly, the character was not scared of the death battles and instead frolicked in the horror.
It was a joy coming up with the ramshackle responses of the death battle organizers to the unknown creature mocking their show, the fledgling armed guards whose ranks thinned every time they confronted the anomaly, and the trembling announcer who had to interview the strange creature amidst all the gore. I’d thrown piping hot water on the anthill and gleamed at the little creatures scurrying about in fear.
The narrative judo flip. Take a logistical constant and make an exception.
I’ve always thought superhero comics do this well (if overly used) because the rules of the universe can be reduced so simply. Take a mind-reader, show that they can read the mind of anyone in the world by being round them and listening to their inner thoughts. Everyone except John Delaine: the front desk security guard at the Manhattan condominium where the mind-reader lives.
First question, why doesn’t the mind-reading power work on this guy? Does he know of the mind-reader’s secret and have some special means of defeating him? How does the mind-reader deal emotionally with this fault in his powers and does he have the fortitude to investigate the blind spot?
Questions abound and the mechanisms of plot advancement, character conflict, and audience engagement blossom forth.
Of course the hands at these levers of change belong to the writer and – as that writer – I’ve ran my head into this machinery and come back dazed, confused, bloodied. It keeps things fresh no doubt but that’s just the reverse side of aggravating.
Then again, creating logistical exceptions is a favorite bonus to me as an audience member. When the fictitious world is laid out and all the pieces have their parts and places I ask, “But what if?” Meteor falling towards Metropolis in an extinction level event? Just ask Superman to save the world. After all, he likes it here… But what if Superman didn’t care for humanity one way or the other? What if he asked, “Why should I help you?” Humanity would be presented with the ignominious task of justifying its value to Superman. There’s a nice story concept: Humanity’s worth—on trial.
I’ll perform this exercise over and over and view a story from ten alternate dimensions. But for all the spitballing fantastics this method can derive, it’s not a one-to-one transfer into the story you’ll create from those ideas.
Logic has a pivotal place in stories because it establishes expectations which can then be subverted to the surprise and enjoyment of the audience. However, if too many logical constants are broken too quickly without preface and sufficiently interesting payoffs then there’s no ground for the audience to stand on. The subversion becomes the new normalcy and the author’s intent for these moments to be shocking and thrilling will meet the cold, deservedly so, expectations of the audience.
I always think of the stereotypical soap opera where the plot devices reach parody to sustain got-ya swerves or the will-they-won’t-they relationship that’s drawn out over multiple books or TV seasons. You’ve spent so much time and emotional investment questioning the next pivot and hoping for a conclusion that any affirmative answer feels like a drained hangover.
The Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray and many great jam songs accomplish this through a constant motif that grounds the listener with a familiar rhythm as the band heads off on their own trips and new instruments are brought in, shown around, and let go for the next guest on the beat.
But this was meant to be about writing… Even though all these forms of media require preplanning and writing in some degree or form. How do you pull the rug from the audience if you haven’t stitched it together? Yes, it’s coming back to me now.
Perhaps the best place to find the logical twist in prose is in that spacey, free-flowing realm of Magical Realism. A man staring at an axolotl in a tank becomes the axolotl, a breadwinner son turns into a giant bug, a husband rapidly devolves from human back down the tree of life. (Why did I pick three stories about people turning into animals?)
It all boils down to that one supernatural (or what we accept as supernatural) twist to true life (or what we can accept as true life) which causes our childlike imaginations to rise alongside our mature deduction of logical progression.