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The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
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HawkEliz489
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The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes

Postby HawkEliz489 » Sun Jul 31, 2016 4:10 am

Hi guys.
I'm wondering if you're trying to give EVERY detail a logical explanation in your stories. For instant, 'Why this character made this and that choice?' 'Why now and not before or after?' 'What caused this character go on this path and not on another?'
Thing is, personally I try to answer every possible question that the reader might come up with, even though those answers might never be required in the process of the book, and honestly it is kind of pain and obsessive. I'm not sure, maybe I'm being paranoid or silly, because every time I reach to the main points of the story, I find myself going much deeper into them and it's as if I'm trying to prove myself that things flow naturally and not forced.

What do you guys think? Do you give logical explanation to your story points, characters and their decisions? Or do some questions stay as a mystery to you too, as a writer? And is it necessary to have all the questions answered?
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shadowwalker
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Re: The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes

Postby shadowwalker » Sun Jul 31, 2016 8:32 am

Well, first, characters will not always act logically because humans don't always act logically - at least not in the eyes of others. So the question is, does the character act logically based on who they are? In other words, are you keeping the characters 'in character'? If they do something out of character, then there needs to be some reason why. But I never stick an "explanation" (ie, infodump) into the story - the reasons come out, but within the flow of the story.

Now, that's all within the story. Do I figure out all the logic as I'm deciding which way a story should go? Nope. I may do a few quick "Well, what if ..." before I decide one way would be more fun than another, but generally if something happens, it's because it just seems like the right thing to do.

Sometimes intuition is a greater gift for a writer to cultivate than logic.
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Re: The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes

Postby cynicalwanderer » Mon Aug 01, 2016 5:13 am

One general point about explanations I'd add is: whenever possible, give the reader an opportunity to feel smart by showing them the 2 and the 2 and letting them deduce the 4 on their own. You'll generate positive reactions in those readers who feel you've respected their intelligence. The trick, of course, is to still make the meaning accessible enough for those readers who, for whatever reason, can't make the connection.

If the character is well drawn enough and behaves more or less consistently with the personality you've created, the reasons why they do things should be clear enough to the reader, because the readers "feels like they know this person" and can draw on their own sense of what the character would and wouldn't do. As long as you don't bend them so far out of character in the service of a plot device that they snap, you can rely on readers to fill in the mental and emotional gaps to an extent.
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Re: The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes

Postby glynisj » Sat Aug 13, 2016 9:20 am


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Re: The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes

Postby Hannah Spencer » Wed Aug 17, 2016 2:05 pm

I think it's very easy to over explain things, and it seems to hint at lack of confidence in the writer that they are getting their point across. If you have good characters, the reader can predict what they may do in a situation, and if they do something else it adds intrigue as they try to work out why. As long as it doesn't go too WTF they are happy to accept it. Just like in real life- you ask a stranger if they want a drink, their answer - triple vodka, half a shandy, water- says a lot about them without them launching into a lifelong history of their drinking habits and consequences which sends you into catatonia. Just get on with the story and avoid the side lectures!

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Zorg
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Re: The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes

Postby Zorg » Wed Aug 17, 2016 7:06 pm

Wildcat... wild... cat... pow... wildcat...

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Re: The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes

Postby pls » Wed Aug 17, 2016 7:50 pm

The best advice I can give is that if the explanations don't advance the story, leave them out. You don't have to "tell" everything for the reader to be able to fill in the blanks. Too much exposition can ruin a story.
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Re: The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes

Postby James A. Ritchie » Tue Sep 13, 2016 1:55 pm

I've sold a lot of short stories, and a triple handful of novels, and I don't think I've consciously considered any of these things at any time. I just tell a story. I place what I hope are interesting characters in what I hope is an equally interesting situation, and let them work themselves out of that situation. Alternately, I give them a question to answer, and place a lot of obstacles in the way of the answer. Often, I do both.

But, for me, it's simply a matter of asking myself what I would do in a given situation, and what the characters I use would do. I never think about the reader. I believe thinking about readers, about market, etc., is a way to write a poor novel that is, at best, same old, same old. So I just tell a story I would want to read, I would be willing to part with beer money for, if someone else wrote it. This is all it takes to be a successful writer.

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Re: The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes

Postby MatthewTM » Sun Sep 25, 2016 8:27 pm

As long as it's believable, a character can do exceptionally stupid things and you won't question it. I think it has to feel authentic for someone with their flaws and strengths. It should never feel out of character. A three-dimensional character has strengths pulling one way but flaws in another so the surprise comes from which wins out. If we've seen those flaws/strengths in action is small ways, when a big decision comes up we'll be wondering what they're going to do.

The other thing to think about is that people don't randomly change the way they behave. They need an outside stimulus and some lesson (sometimes misconstrued) from that. So if we've seen their strengths and flaws in action and we've seen events that are real, believable catalysts, I reckon you should be able to get away with just showing the actions they take.

If it still feels like you need to justify the decisions through internal monologue, perhaps you need to check that the flaws and strengths are defined well enough and that the events happening really mean enough to the character and their goals.

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Re: The 'Logic' behind Stories/Choices/Scenes

Postby TwoStepCharlie » Tue Oct 04, 2016 3:42 pm

This is a good discussion. Enjoyed parsing through the various replies.

Probably every writer has their own interpretation of just how to answer all these concerns. Ultimately it may just come down to a writer's own instincts, his style, the kind of hazy goal he has in mind (half-crystallized) for his finished composition...you write a couple pages, then 'feel it with your bones'.

I've found difficulty sometimes in writing in that I (as the 'omniscient' author), "know too much" about what's going on. I want to 'substantiate' what every character is doing. But this often kills narrative, overloads it. It's over-directing.

You can't 'port' or 'dump' all the nuances, subtexts, and causal-chains you see (because you wear the author's cap) in one fell swoop, into the lap of the reader. It's too much to drop on anyone. You have to set aside your pride and write with restraint. (Unless you're Henry Miller or something).

Instead, think of the beautiful technique of someone like Agatha Christie. In each scene, she tells just a tiny sliver of what she needs the reader to grasp, in order to lead them forward. She steers our expectations without ever really seeming to. In a way, she writes her scenes like a journalist. Usually very, very, sparsely (it depends on the book). Another example is Dash Hammett. He avoids using his own voice and instead lets the character voice dominate.

When it comes right down to it, a lot of what happens in human life is people entering a room, standing around moving their lips, and then exiting the room. 'Stories' are often less than the sum of their parts.
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