Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Check for Logical Flaws

The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.

- Tom Clancy

This is applies to most fiction, but is especially true for mysteries. If your work contains logical flaws or your bad guy lacks motivation, you will hear from your readers and the little love notes will not be complimentary. Mystery readers feel cheated if all the information is not available for the reader to solve the puzzle.

One of your early edits should include a read-through for logical flaws. When I do this with my work, I often draw a timeline or fill out a chapter matrix - who did what when and when did the detective find out - to help me take an objective look. I also ask friends to read for logical flaws. I have found that it is generally useless to ask friends for critical reviews, as friends want to share encouraging compliments. They do not, in general, want to be the one to throw the cold water. However, when asked to be part of a specific task - like finding logical flaws - they come through if I ask the question correctly.

I can't ask any version of "Does the story have any flaws?" That's because the answer will always be some version of "Of course not, this is a great story!" So I ask my questions carefully -
  • This story has a flaw in the logic - can you find it?
  • Can you solve the mystery (often I remove the solution for this one)? At what point in the book did you know you had the answer?
  • Will you read this and list all the clues you find - and at the end say if they were valid clues or red herrings? Do you have enough information to solve the mystery before, or at the same time, as the detective?

Friends are much more comfortable with specific tasks than with open-ended questions. They want to help, but don't necessarily know your business and don't want to hurt your feelings.

Writing critique groups on the other hand, the good ones, will be happy to tear your work to shreds. Ask them if your work has any logic flaws and see what happens.

What methods do you use to make sure your WIP will make sense to the reader?


Anonymous said...

I have 3 close peeps that I use as trusted qualified honest and candid readers of my ms's. They are all extremely well read in all genres, have degrees is English and/or literature, and are my entrusted posse when I'm about to start submitting a new work to agents and pub houses.

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...

How wonderful for you! How in the world did you convice friends to share their critical thoughts with you? Our friends include engineers, teachers, technical writers...all sorts of educated, professional people who love to read. We've asked for critical feed back from at least ten of them. All but one accepted the challenge. Of those, only one was really willing to throw darts. The rest offered a few comments each - usually about typos that MS Word doesn't catch. We shared our thoughts and feelings about this with one member of the gang and she responded by sending the draft off to a friend of her's. A guy who didn't know us. His copy came back with a slew of very helpful comments.

There is an up-side. The friend who knew from the get-go that she would not be comfortable criticizing her friends' writing - she was first in line at the bookstore and picked up FIVE copies:-).