One of the most difficult aspects of writing a novel is establishing the logic of the plot and of the characters. It is rare to speak of logic in this context, but I’m convinced it is a key component. It’s all the more crucial, because the reader does not (consciously) think of narrative in this way. Yet, if the reader cannot follow the logic of cause and effect, of motivation, of an unrolling sequence, you will lose your reader. For the writer composing realistic fiction it is easier to catch a failure of that logic. If writing fantasy, it is too easy to fudge the logic. I recall editor Ruth Katcher telling me that fantasy needs to be written like historical fiction. That is, it must follow consistent facts—even if they are made-up facts. And, once, my late friend Bob Cormier, (I am the Cheese, The Chocolate War) told me, “I allow myself only one coincidence a book.” Yet a recent book of mine, City of Orphans, is predicated on a series of acknowledged coincidences. I think the book works because it is about those coincidences, what my narrator chooses to call “God’s small miracles.” It’s a good exercise to look at a descriptive paragraph—even each sentence!—you have written. Does the sequence of detail, events, emotions, follow upon one another in a logical way? Does it lead—logically—somewhere? It is much more powerful when it does. It may seem exaggerated to suggest that a novel constitutes a long, logical sequence of events but I think, when it is well-written, it does. Think about it. Logically.
Artists, and that includes writers, have the stereotypical reputation for being impulsive, living and working by intuitive steps. Beyond all else there is—so it is often believed—an emotional basis to creativity. Surely some. From this writer’s point of view, what is also fundamental is rational logic. To write true, to use a Hemingway term, a story must unfold in a logical sequence of events. Crudely put, a plot is a series of cause-and-effect sequences until the ending has a logical resolution. When cause and effect are not logical, readers balk. “Doesn’t make sense.” “I can’t follow the story.” “Too many coincidences.” “You lost me.” “Not believable.” “Implausible.” In fact, there is a veritable dictionary of phrases that are used to reject stories which have no innate logic. That doesn’t mean a story can’t have the unexpected or surprises. Indeed, if the unexpected is simultaneously perceived as logical, the reader is pleased, even delighted. Just witness the enormous success of mysteries in which the logic explanation is there, but hidden. The extraordinary popularity of Sherlock Holmes is due, I think, because brilliant logical deductive reasoning is his character. Of course, to compose three hundred pages or more (or less) of logic, is anything, dear Watson, but “Elementary.”