On Logic

Writers, let’s talk logic. This is a serious aspect of any writing, whether fiction or not. Essays, of course. Reality-based fiction, absolutely. High fantasy? Yes, indeed. All writing must embrace logic, even the writing which strives to be avant garde. If you’ve ever read William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch, even that work embraces logic; every written work in the world which enjoys a semblance of success utilizes logic as a means to hold the plot in one piece, to maintain consistency, and to keep a reader engaged. Without logic, narrative will not make sense. Logic is a key to keeping your writing true to its form.

If you were ever given instruction in English class (or happened upon the terms on your own) regarding logos, pathos, and ethos, the idea of logic in writing is often paired with persuasion. An argumentative essay, a speech, or a dissertation may all employ these elements. But have you ever considered how the element of logic applies to fantasy, magical realism, romance, or historical fiction? In all honesty, we may not consider it as necessary to our imaginary worlds, but it certainly matters.

For instance, when characters behave erratically and illogically in a story, one of two things will be the result: the author is creating a conflict to be resolved, or the audience is about to jump ship. Characters who behave out of the bounds of what the author establishes within the context of the story are going to give the reader a signal that either something is wrong with the character’s experience, or something is wrong with the writing. If you write without sticking to the logic of what you already established about your character, your readers are not going to trust you as a writer. It’s simple math.

This same idea belongs to all facets of your story, whether it’s the plot, setting, conflict, symbolism, theme…anything that steps outside the boundaries of the logic you create within your world must have a logical reason for breaking the rules. Otherwise, you lose credibility with your readers when they notice your errors. Even if you don’t explain the reasons for the rule-breaking, you need to have solid logic to back up your choice, and make sure you place hints within the story somewhere. If the hints are too vague or hidden, readers will not understand your logic and your attempt at being coy will fail.

Back to the use of logos, pathos, and ethos, I will maintain that if logos applies to any literary work, so do pathos and ethos. A reader will emotionally attach to aspects of your story, a natural response you expect and want to happen. If a reader doesn’t emotionally connect, again, you’ve missed something important. An emotional connection draws a reader to want to know what happens to the characters, how the plot will move forward, and how the conflict is resolved. When characters are able to overcome their problems, readers will feel a sense of relief, and it’s this satisfaction most readers want when they read a good story. A satisfying ending after a tense experience—this is the pathos of your tale.

Ethos, on the other hand, is directly tied to your ability to persuade your reader that you are a trustworthy storyteller. If you obey the logical laws of your imagined world, you ensnare your readers with the right amount of tension and release to attach emotionally, then you will be more likely to come across as a credible storyteller. Your ethics as a writer are what create a world your readers can trust will stick to the rules, which sometimes means anything goes and there is no logic at all, like in Naked Lunch. That in itself is a set of rules. The trick, either way, is to demand of yourself what you would demand of any story you read: be trustworthy and earn your audience’s attention by drawing clearly the path of how the characters will behave, how the world will affect them, and what might happen if they succeed or fail.

Basically, this boils down to keeping careful track of important details like character traits and histories, the rules of your world (magic, science, biology, etc), and the progression of your plot. If you stray from what you already told the reader because you forgot a character’s history, this will screw with your ethos and logos, which will then affect the pathos, too. They are all linked inextricably. I shared in a different post that it can help to keep track of characters by writing bios and keeping cheat sheets of important details at hand while composing. This is helpful when it comes to elements of your setting and plot, too. It’s a rare author who can hold all that information in his or her head for the length of time it takes to craft an entire novel. Heck, I have a hard time with that even in a short story sometimes.

JK Rowling once stated in an interview that she crafted the entire plot line of all seven Harry Potter books before she ever wrote a word of her stories. Such attention to detail shows in her entire series, but it shows most eloquently in the last book of the series. The astonishing mastery of tying loose ends the reader may not have even realized were connected is a stroke of genius few authors achieve, but careful planning is what must be done. Tolkien created his world in the Lord of the Rings novels over a period of about 40 years, going so far as to create entire languages and histories as long as his novels. With such dedication to detail, it’s no wonder these stories stand the test of time and are still so well loved.

I have said before that when you want to know how to accomplish the feat of anything done well, look to the masters you admire. To know how to create a world or characters or plots which emotionally connect, hold fast to their established logic, and deliver a satisfying resolution, study those who do what you hope to embody in your own work. Read their writing, watch or read interviews they gave, and study how they achieved success. What did these authors do to practice, to stay motivated, to improve? Follow the bread crumbs, but allow yourself to be informed by more than one author. One does not become successful by being a mimic. Study, and then be good at what only you can do as a writer. Above all, avoid trying to defy logic. Instead, use logic to your advantage and win the hearts of your readers by being trustworthy and connected.

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