Tag Archives: creating a logical story arc

Logic and the Deus Ex Machina #amwriting

I write fantasy novels, but I also write contemporary fiction.  All fiction, literary as well as fantasy, requires world building and a certain amount of planning as any novel or short story must have a logical story arc. Without a fundamental logic to the events, the reader can’t suspend their disbelief.

NaNoWriMo is prime “pantsing it” time. For those who don’t know that term, “pantsing” is writer-speak for “flying by the seat of your pants.” I always begin by writing to an outline, but in the mad rush to the finish, my story goes in directions I never planned for.

I outline in advance because (when writing in any genre) if you are pantsing your way through a story that encompasses 75,000 to 100,000 words, it is easy to get involved in large info dumps and bunny trails to nowhere. A loose outline will tell you what must happen next to arrive at the end of the book with a logical story set in a solidly designed world.

However, I’ve never yet written a story that stuck strictly to the original outline.

Characters develop lives and personalities of their own, and stuff happens that wasn’t planned for. When I finish the first draft, it always makes sense in my head, and I usually feel confident it can pass the logic test.

So, what is the logic test? Once you have the first draft written, let it sit for a few weeks, then come back to it. If I was smart, during my writing process I made notes where the scenes began deviating from the outline.

Screen writers have it right, so the layout of my outline is divided into acts and beats, the same as a screenplay would be listed with a brief description.

Act One

  • Opening scene–characters in “normal” environment–/ Hook
  • Inciting Incident–characters thrown out of “normal” and into new circumstances.
  • End of the Beginning

Act Two takes up 50% of the novel—it is the second quarter and third quarter combined.

  • Pinch Point #1
  • Midpoint
  • Pinch Point #2
  • Crisis

Act Three

  • Climax
  • Final resolution

Each section has a brief description of what occurs there, such as:

Act Three, scene 1

  • Leave Hemsteck
  • First campsite, Alf /Ronan talk. Dex overhears.

If I have made notes of my changes to the story line, I have a guide showing me what those changes were. I know where to go back and check to make sure the events are foreshadowed logically, and not a clumsy Deus Ex Machina. (Pronounced: Day-us ex Mah-kee-nah.) (God from the Machine.)

This is a plot twist that is used to miraculously resolve an issue. (Miraculous is the key word.) A Deus Ex Machina occurs when, toward the end of the narrative, an author inserts a new event, character, ability, or otherwise resolves a seemingly insoluble problem in a sudden, unexpected way.

So, let’s consider an indie novel I tried to read a week ago and didn’t finish. I was in the mood for a trashy  adventure/romance, and for the first few chapters, I was able to overlook some technical annoyances because the characters were hilarious. After thinking about it, I doubt the author intended it to be such a hilarious mockery of 19th century upper class mores, as everything was written so earnestly, so faux Charlotte Bronte.

The setting for the final incident that threw me out of the book completely is a grand ball at a Buckingham Palace. The main character, whom we just spent a chapter dressing in an excessive amount of detail, becomes involved in a quarrel. She draws her sword, and the fight is on.

Where did that weapon come from? Swords aren’t easy to conceal. It wasn’t part of the highly detailed scene where her maid was dressing her one layer at a time. Why was she wearing a sword at a formal event? Do all the ladies go armed at these events? If so, it should have been made a part of the choosing-the-gown scene. Give her a fancy scabbard to keep that handy  rival-stabber in, something that looks all bejeweled and goes with the outfit.

In late Regency/early Victorian times, officers wore ceremonial swords to formal events. Women were never armed openly. Any weapons they had would have been knives, poison, or pistols and would have been concealed, not hanging from their waist in a long scabbard. A pistol in her bodice would have almost logical. So, if you intend for her to draw her sword, there must be a logical reason for these men and women to be armed.

When I look back at my story’s outline, starting from the ending and working forward, does the characters’ journey to the final page make sense? If my characters must show up to a grand ball fully armed, it must be logical, a part of their culture.

Good writers don’t rely on miracles to ensure things work out to the main character’s advantage. They use logic and insert small clues and hints into the narrative, so the reader doesn’t feel cheated. To that end, I suggest keeping an updated outline of what happens in each scene.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rembrandt – Rembrandt and Saskia in the Scene of the Prodigal Son – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rembrandt_-_Rembrandt_and_Saskia_in_the_Scene_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=302686497 (accessed December 16, 2018).

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