Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Consistency and Logic in Novel Writing - Part 1

Much like mapping, tracking follows characters and objects throughout various plot threads during the novel writing process to ensure consistency and logic. Tracking includes:

Where Characters Travel

Characters possess various bits of information or even lack of knowledge about places found within the fictional worlds where they live. If a character has never graced the shores of the village on the lake, all they would know is what they’ve been told. Hearsay. If characters base their actions on hearsay, they may find themselves caught in unforeseen trouble when plans don’t work. That’s fine, but actions and consequences need to match experience and knowledge.

What characters know needs to be consistent with their experience. Fantasy writers can be tempted to throw in a previously unknown morsel of knowledge to make a plot work. However, when this is done, the thread of knowledge must weave back through the plot to keep the logic consistent. If they didn’t know it earlier, they won’t know it later. Track where characters travel and what they know.

Who Characters Meet

Who characters meet is a little easier to track unless your novel is filled with a large number of primary characters. It’s the primary characters’ relationships that need to be followed. Their actions and reactions move the plot along. Also track window characters (those that provide insight to various scenes and happenings in the primary characters’ lives).

Just like in real life, not everyone knows everyone else. When writing a novel, include characters that work to move the story along by adding tension or conflict to the plot. This hooks the reader’s attention and makes them hungry for more.

If your protagonist has never met Guard 3 within information provided to the reader, and yet at a checkpoint later in the story the two mysteriously remember each other so that the guard let’s the protagonist pass—the reader will take pause to sift through what they know and question how this could happen.

Your goal as a novelist is to keep the reader reading. If you find it necessary that two characters know each other at the climax of your story, it has to be done in a way that makes logical sense to the reader. Even if it’s a chance meeting earlier in the story in which the reader is unaware of a conversation, that’s fine. But somewhere within the story, the reader needs to be able to logically trace back how the plot twist works based on character relationships.

(Photo supplied by Patti Gray Kewanee, IL, United States)


Alex Moore said...

Consistency is definitely a must-have. I've spent hours combing through a book just to double-check my understanding...and whether or not the author had been consistent. Of course, I only do this with books I care about, so the author has already invested enough energy to make me want to read the book. Still, it drives me crazy when an author isn't precise and careful.

Donna Sundblad said...

Hi Alex,

I totally agree. One of the exercises in each chapter of my book Pumping Your Muse required the author to track things the character owns, carries, wears, etc. And it helps to keep a profile: color of eyes, hair, etc. so that those things remain the same throughout the book.

Thanks for stopping by.