Authorguy's Blog

With truth and logic for all!

Posted on: December 19, 2011


We got into a discussion of the first Terminator movie yesterday, on Twitter, and today I made the related point that logic points to truth, which is why people don’t like it so much. The connection might not be so easy to see, so I’m writing at somewhat greater length to fill in the blanks. We start with the Terminator, a great movie with a great sequel. T1 and T2 both start off with time travel, by which means a hero is sent back in time to prevent the death of a man at the hands of a villain who is also sent back in time. I assume everyone here knows the basic story, mainly because I do. Spoilers ahead, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I pointed out that the first two movies were ‘better’, in the sense that they adhered to a philosophy which the later ones did not. That philosophy is stated as ‘there is no Fate but what we make’. T1 and T2 were about Sarah Connor and John Connor doing whatever they had to do to prevent the Judgment Day war. In the later movies this belief is discarded, with the claim that Judgment Day has always been inevitable, it’s just the form and timing that changes.

This bothered me a lot, especially since I have a basic idea for a story that could easily have been developed to not only prevent Judgment Day (as T1 and T2 claimed), but do so in a way that ended the cycle of movies, by ending the conflict between us and Skynet. This is good for the story but bad for people who want to make more money by making more movies, and torture the story by making it stay alive past its normal and natural end point.

I see this a lot in movies, by the way, tropes of the genre, such as time travel (TT) or teleportation (TP), being used by scriptwriters who don’t really know how to use them properly. Highlander 2 has much the same problem, an explanation for the immortality of the characters, and the logic of the story in general, existed in potentia in the script but the writers didn’t put the pieces together. Plus the plot sucked.

This is where story logic comes in. Using the tropes properly is not easy, they sometimes have possibilities inherent in them that are larger than one story can handle. T1 was brilliant, using TT just once and spun the rest of the story out of that. The whole movie was revealed (in the deleted scenes, anyway) as a loop that existed because it existed. Even without the deleted scenes the internal logic made perfect sense. T2 is a little worse in that respect, but that’s where my idea for T3 comes in.

My respondent proposed that one could become a better pantser, and avoid these errors, by learning plot and structure. I replied that I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to learn, although I think in terms of story logic and not those other elements so I don’t really know. It may be the difference between Art and Craft, that elements which are fine by Craft standards are completely unacceptable by the standards of Art, and no Artist who sees it could ever explain the problem to a Craftsman who doesn’t. Lots of people think the T3 they actually made is a perfectly fine movie, although no one likes Highlander 2.

My respondent proposed that people were so bad at logic that it just seems like the ability to use it is somehow naturally occurring in some, but not in others. I doubt this, since I’m a philosophy major at heart and learned symbolic logic in a class room. What is needed, though, is a desire to use the logic once one has learned it and apply it to the world outside the classroom. This is where the problem arises.

Logic leads from premises, given statements, to conclusions, which we may call conditional truths. Many pantsers have stories that go off on their own, characters who do what they want, and demand the author follow. They no longer know where the story is going to end, but when they get there, that story is a ‘truth’. Not many people recognize that the things they think of as facts are really fictions, so those same people probably fail to recognize the conditional nature of the truths these ‘facts’ logically imply, and a lot of the time, truth is uncomfortable. (The only enemy Buffy could not defeat was the truth, as wielded by the singing demon in Once More With Feeling.) I admit I would like to know where a story is going before it gets there. It would be easier, and I’d probably write the book faster, but I think it would be an inferior book, a ‘lie’. Truth is a product of logic, not of the will, and we’re stuck with what we get.

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2 Responses to "With truth and logic for all!"

I typed a LONG comment yesterday and must have closed without publishing it… Oops.

I think there is definitely a difference between logic and plot/structure – a story can be very logical without having the build-up of tension and the character-driven resolution needed to make it satisfying. I also think an ending can be logical without being satisfying, and in that case, maybe the “truth” reflects characters or world-building that fell short. After all, you can arrive at almost any “truth” in fiction if you build the necessary elements to get there – and it doesn’t require ignoring logic.

When I find that my characters are arriving at an ending that falls flat, I have to ask two questions: 1) Is this the “true” ending – following story logic as you described, and 2) Are these the characters and the world I really wanted to write? In that sense, I think you can write an honest story with an end in mind, as long as you put in what needs to be there.

Story logic strikes me kind of like cooking. If I taste my finished dish and it doesn’t taste right, I may need to go back and add different ingredients or change how I cook them. But if I’m wedded to my recipe, then I have to live with how it turns out. I can’t just stir eggs in a pan and call it a souffle. 🙂

Interesting post, thank you!

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You’re quite correct, story logic is not the only requirement. If the story hasn’t come out the way you wanted, by all means add some more ingredients. What story logic will tell you is if you’ve used them correctly, but it can’t tell you what you should use.

Thank you!

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