vs Illiogic - Hanging the Lanterns
To my mind, there are four categories of logic lapses:
Continuity and Poor Research are the easiest to fix. They are also the elements most evident to editors, long before readers get their mitts on your book. Continuity is a lapse in memory. Simply put:
Tom inherited his wonderfully green eyes from his mother.
Paragraph two-hundred and eighty:
Suddenly, Tom's eyes changed from blue to gold signifying the presence of Sydney's spirit.
You might laugh, but I have in one of my novels a possession sequence, which has a blue-eyed character possessed by a green-eyed character. The effect was perfect, except I had the eye coloring wrong at two ends of the novel. Now because the continuity error was separated by nearly 200 pages, the reader may never had noticed, but never underestimate the reader.
The simpler paragraph-to-paragraph continuity lapses scarcely need mention. We all know that things that a pocketed are suddenly out in the open or pocketed twice. Characters leave twice, or never enter. However, in my opinion, the worse logic lapse is ignorance - the lack of proper research. Many times, we will make it up as we go along, and many times, we can get away with it. However, even if it is for short stretches, we, as authors, owe our readers a proper look and feel.
Sergeant O'Hara finished relieving himself in the muddy ditch, and then zipped up his fly.
Considering the above sentence is extracted from a Civil War novel, and the zipper wasn't invented yet, it is anachronistic slop, which could have been avoided if the writer had taken some time to research Civil War uniforms in all their richness.
Sergeant O'Hara finished relieving himself in the redoubt, buttoning up and fastening his buckler.
I once spent two weeks cooking Tuscan cuisine to learn local ingredients, aromas and textures for a scene in my novel The Third Peregrination. I savored my research, not to mention putting on a pound and a half. Results: two well-researched, logically correct paragraphs tucked away as background to an important scene. The research gave the background authenticity, but like the meal ingredients, didn't overpower the main course - my story.
The logic lapse that can prove most frustrating is the Counter-active. You have an important plot development or a character following a specific arc, then - wham. You begin to second-guess it, because might be alternative courses of action that are just as logical. You know that the reader will question your twists, and, if questioned harshly, you will earn the dreaded label: Contrived. In addition to the developmental counter-actives, there are other points of question that the reader could contest, such as, How is there light in a tomb that hasn't been explored in a thousand years? Little things like that. There are two solutions for these common second-guessing points. Remember that whenever the reader second-guesses you, they are thrown out of the story. Reader off track = story flailing (as opposed to story telling).
The first method is to handle logistics appropriately. If a cave will be dark, be sure that your spelunkers are fully outfitted with every prop necessary to light the way. You can't start producing ropes and riggings, spikes and flashlights mid-scene without tracking, or at least nodding to their origin. Also, be sure that your characters are properly trained to use their props. If there's an escape using a motorboat, account a reason why the protagonist is to drive the damn thing to chug away from the villain. The protagonist may not be an expert at watercraft, but he/she could have watched ten hours of Sea Hunt as an unwitting preparation for the sequence.
We walk a tight-rope here. Be careful not to over-emphasis logistics. I once spent so much time explaining why a tomb had lighting that my surprise ending was no surprise. In that case, I rewrote two chapters to undo my over-emphasis. I just hung a lantern on it and moved on.
Hanging a lantern. This is an old movie expression that every writer should now. When you reach a counter-active point, hang a lantern on it, before the reader does. This means a short brake in the flow - an aside or some otherwise witty and well-conceived comments that says, what was just said doesn't really make sense, but that's the way it is folks. Here's an example from a novel I'm currently writing - Surviving an American Gulag.
Avila shook his head and followed. A cricket chirped. Odd and out of season. Perhaps it was some rare Georgian variety bred on mess hall muck. Its chirp did not go unnoticed. Gibbs halted.
"Just the stars singing, Winslow."
Frank hummed his grandmother's song.
Edward C. Patterson