the power of lies

[unrelated to today’s post, but i just wanted to give a general ‘good luck!’ to all the NaNoWriMo folks out there starting today! have a blast!]

after last week’s strong surge, i hit a bit of a quagmire over the weekend in plotting Running on Empty. i’ve been back and forth with various possible versions, but each one kept running off the cliff of believability and into the abyss of the ridiculous. yes, i could use my super author powers and carry them across, placing them back on solid ground without so much as a backward glance at the gaping plot hole, pulling the reader faster and faster into more certain territory.

but i can’t. i genuinely can’t.

i’m generally obsessive about continuity, and even small plot gaps will completely kick me out of a story experience. if a piece fails to abide by its own logic (and there’s a lot of flexibility in that last statement), my enjoyment is cut in half, at best. i tend to enjoy most those stories which i can ponder over at length, remembering the excitement of the prose, the cleverness of the author, the genuineness of the characters, etc. when i discover a plot flaw during these musings, the experience is tarnished.

perhaps this isn’t fair. perhaps i am expect too rigid a ‘realism’ of my reading, but it’s how i read. and it’s how i read fantasy, sf, mystery, mainstream, and all the rest.

there are certainly times when i wish i could turn this off*, but so far, no dice.

so it is with my writing. i can’t skip over a plot flaw or flimsy narrative leap.** once i see such a problem, i have to rework the story until the problem is resolved. in some cases, this means large scale revision (there was a lot of this in Witness). in others, it’s simply an extra line of dialogue or the insertion of an earlier explanatory scene that makes sense.

in Running on Empty, i discovered another answer inside another of my writing obstacles. i tend to write characters that act logically. i don’t always agree with what they’re doing, but whatever it is makes sense for them. or should. if it doesn’t make sense, i feel i’ve misunderstood the character, forcing him or her to say or do something irrational.

in this case, though, i have glimpsed the power of theatricality, of deception. i know it happens in real life every day, but i dislike that experience, and it makes sense (!) that i would avoid writing that kind of character. tonight, though, i was again trying to make every step adhere to a logical view of the various rationales for the various events, and i was failing in every attempt. it didn’t make sense that character A would treat character B in this way. it worked fine in the heat of the moment, but if any reader were to think back on it for any length of time, it had far too many holes.

and then i remembered that people lie. i’ve certainly used lies before in my writing, but this was the first time i had a character making such a theatrical and elaborate use of the skill. it wasn’t that the plot itself didn’t make sense, it was the motivation i was seeking for each step that was the problem. seen from an objective viewpoint, they just didn’t all hold up. until  i realized that character A was lying to character B, for a very particular reason. sadly, i had been taken in as well, but that’s all part of life.

now, though, i’m onto him.

* as does my wife, though she endures nonetheless

** not intentionally, at least. i’m certain my stories have their share of incongruities that i have yet to discover.