Sunday, February 7, 2016

Making sense

When building a fictional world, it's difficult to ensure that everything makes sense. We envision things a certain way; we have plot-related reasons for things to happen a certain way. But our pursuit of plot can make us overlook more obvious alternatives. I was recently working on a story in which I had to keep asking myself, "Why don't the characters just do so-and-so; it would be so much easier?" It's like the scene in Indiana Jones where the swordfighter attacks, and your first expectation is, Oh, there's going to be a swordfight here, because we've all seen swordfights on screen a million times. But Indiana Jones has a gun. And then you think, Oh, of course! There's no earthly reason for him to use a sword.

Characters should not walk when they could fly. A trapped character will look for ways out of his situation; we have to make sure readers don't think of options that we ignore. Characters need a food source and a water source, and these should make sense for their environment. Characters living in the desert should not be eating seafood, unless they're rich enough to import it. A civilization needs ways to enforce rules, dispose of waste, treat sickness, educate children. Not all of these need to be explicit. But the story should allow room for them. I remember being driven crazy by stories that implied that characters never needed to eat, sleep, or take a bathroom break. We don't need to see all those breaks, but we should get the sense that there is room for them to happen.


  1. Great post here, Jennifer. And I agree. Plots need to be logical--even if it's a different world. Because I'm concrete, I think of these things, too, as I write. No need for the minutiae, but the reader needs to feel there is time in the day [and ordeal] for it. Thanks for sharing this.