Sunday, December 20, 2009

Logic 101

All writing, on some level or another, must make sense. Even if we are writing science fiction or fantasy, we must maintain a level of logic that doesn’t jar the mind too much, or the reader is likely to reject what we say. That is not to say that everything has to be proven in a scientific laboratory, but it must hold to the ‘rules’ that apply to the world we have created. One of my early encounters with reality was an exercise I wrote in a short story course which was supposed to show a simple incident where two people were doing something—it didn’t matter what—that gave the reader a glimpse of who they were, what they were doing, and where the story might go from there. I was going to play it safe and write something very simple. My writing coach gave me a ‘C-’ and said he did not believe it. The scene involved two men sitting at a small table in the outdoor section of a restaurant, drinking coffee. They sipped, enjoyed the fresh spring air, and heard the muted sounds of early morning traffic. How could you not believe that this could happen? Believability involves at least two things. It must flow from the characters in a way that is logical, and it must be what we (the reader) would expect them to do. This is not to say that we can’t have strange twist, but the reader needs to have an Aha! moment where he/she thinks, I should have seen that coming. Mark Twain made an interesting observation when he said, “It’s not what you don’t know that can come back to haunt your, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t true.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What are they thinking?


Obscenity, vulgarity, and bad taste — do we really need it in our literature?

There is an astonishing amount of good literature available on the Internet, and a lot of it is free. I like to browse websites and blogs for some of the best of it. Recently, I found a well written story. The suspense and plotting was just about perfect, and I was anticipating a great ending—which came in the last line. I was not pleased, however, with some of the language in the story. Many of the sentences were augmented with four letter words, such as in ‘what the ****.’ I could have lived with one or two, but this occurred in almost every short paragraph. When I suggested that this did not add to the story, most of the other readers disagreed. Words like honest, descriptive, and true to life, popped up in their responses. My question to you is this: Are our readers intelligent enough they can get by without giving them a detailed description of all of our character’s body functions? If you are expecting a moral lesson in any of this, you are going to be disappointed. Morals, or the lack of them, is not the issue I am addressing here. It is simply a matter of looking at ‘honesty’ in a different way. Many blacksmiths, sailors, and construction workers have an ‘honest’ way of expressing themselves, and the rest of us know to move back a few feet when they become unspooled. From having read tens of thousands of books and stories, I have come to believe that the very mention of some human condition can convey all of the emotional flags we need to raise in a particular dramatic situation. As any editor can tell you, the correct word is what triggers human emotion or perception. The sprinkling of four letter words is the literary equivalent of using triple explanation marks at the end of a sentence — and you don’t want me to do that!!! Now do you!!!