I’ve read a lot of manuscripts (and scripts) over the years. I’ve edited and beta read and given general feedback. Outside of grammar issues (passive voice and exposition are tied for 1st place on that hated list), the next biggest problem I’ve run into is the writer’s lack of logic.
“But writing is creative!” you cry. “Logic shmogic!”
Welllll…. yes, but no. Even if you’re writing pure fantasy, even if every single character has or is magic, there still needs to be logic in the use of that magic. Rules, if you will. If your magic comes from the character’s belief in him/herself, it can’t suddenly come from an amulet… unless amulets are also fueled by that belief system or you’ve stated an exception for amulets at some point earlier in the manuscript.
Let’s take out the magic reference altogether. The most common logic problem I run into as an editor is physical logic.
Changing scenery without meaning to or without proper explanation.
Joanie walked across the living room with a large grin on her face. She danced a little jig of happiness but then had to squint against the sunlight bursting through the clouds.
Except Joanie is inside and last I checked, the sun doesn’t shine indoors without windows or a distinct lack of walls.
Keeping track of who the hell is in your scene(s).
Over the course of several paragraphs, Jake, Maxine, Sandra, Joy, Stephen, Angels 1, 2, and 3, and Will are all fighting a massively powerful demon and losing. Badly. Jake’s too injured to do more than crawl around desperately, Maxine’s unconscious, and Sandra’s chained to the wall. Joy and Stephen are arguing over who gets the demon’s dagger when it’s destroyed. The angels are stuck in a magical trap no matter how much they exert their heavenly powers. The demon lifts its magicked blade and plunges it into Maxine’s comatose body, killing her instantly and obliterating her soul.
Wait, what about Will? Well, if you’d remembered that he was there, he probably would’ve saved Maxine. Save Maxine! Remember your characters.
Pure, physical logic.
So you’ve got a dinner party going on. It’s a big, crucial scene between the protagonist and the antagonist, each of whom take up a spot at the far end of the round table… wait, round tables don’t have ends!
So you’ve got a dinner party going on. It’s a big, crucial scene between the protagonist and the antagonist, each of whom take up a spot at the far end of the long table. After making small talk with those around them, they strike up a conversation filled with wit and pointed barbs about each other’s intelligence… wait, they aren’t anywhere near each other!
So you’ve got a dinner party going on. It’s a big, crucial scene between the protagonist and the antagonist, each of whom take up a spot at the far end of the long, exquisitely carved stone table. After making small talk with those around them, the protagonist loses control and sets the table on fire in an attempt to kill everyone… wait, stone doesn’t catch fire! (okay, technically, magic flame might do the trick, but don’t quibble with me, you know what I’m talking about)
So you’ve got a dinner party going on. It’s a big, crucial scene between the protagonist and the antagonist, each of whom take up a spot at the far end of the long table. The protagonist goes to the bathroom. While she’s gone, the antagonist continues chatting up the baroness next to him, inciting her to storm over to the protagonist and slap her with much force and set off a war… wait, the protagonist never came back from the bathroom!
(okay, that ties back to example 1, but really, it comes up a lot)
While you’re writing, it’s hard to picture everything in your head. Or maybe that’s just me. Regardless, here are some helpful hints to keep your logic straight:
- Draw shit out. As in, pick up a pen and paper, or open MS Paint, and draw the table and name each table setting there so you know who’s sitting where. Or draw your spaceship so you know what room is fore and which crew quarter is aft. That way, when the aliens board the ship, your captain knows where to send the crew to save engineering.
- Re-read your manuscript in a different format, whether that’s on paper, or with double spacing, or pdf’d and on an iPad. It’s astounding how things stand out when something looks even slightly physically different than when you were writing it. (I learned this one the hard way.)
- Keep a timeline. For convenience, I keep the timeline on the same spreadsheet as my outline. The spreadsheet reads: Col1: Chapter#; Col2: Chapter Description; Col3: Day#/Season/however you want to track it. That way, you’re not talking about a warm, spring rain in chapter 1 and the bitter cold blizzard in chapter 2 unless some kind of massive environmental problem cropped up and oh look, your inciting incident! ;o) *ahem* Just keep track. Trust me.
All that being said, you’re never going to spot everything during the writing phase, no matter how conscientious you are. Do yourself a favor and hire an editor once the fifth (or tenth) draft is done. Hell, hire two or three! Even being a (non-professional) editor myself, I always hire a couple of editors to check things over before sending a manuscript or script anywhere… but that’s a different post. :o)
Happy writing everyone!