I’ve often said that logic 101 should be a required high school course throughout the land. If you spend any considerable amount of time with other bags of mostly water, and/or mentioned politics, firearms, or whether the poor should be set to drift on ice flows, you have probably noticed that while people may be passionate, they suck at arguing. If you’re familiar with Monty Python (who are reuniting, if you didn’t know), you are well aware that an argument is not just contradiction, it’s a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition …. an intellectual process.
And, while I think being able to make and identify good arguments is an important life skill, I also think it’s an important writing skill. A story, no matter its genre, is really just a (hopefully) clever argument presented by character, setting and plot (you think I’m going to believe the Overlook Hotel is haunted unless Mr. King makes a darn good argument with his writing that this is a world where haunted hotels can exist?)
Argument, like story, has to make logical connections from beginning to end. Like this: Premise A has to equal B, but B also has to equal C. In real life, those premises have to be true and logically follow one another, in writing they only have to logically follow one another. For instance, if I said that Beyonce killed JFK, that is neither true nor is it logical (because she wasn’t born until 1981). It’s an easily refuted argument in the real world. But what if the argument my fictional story makes is that a genius (but Beyonce obsessed) scientist created technology that made time travel possible, and hijinks ensue which eventually gives Beyonce access to a time machine where she is sent back in time and accidentally responsible for the President’s assassination. Although in need of quite a bit of turd polishing, that’s an acceptably logical story premise. Why? Because, you can’t just put a boy and a lion in a boat without explaining how they got there. Just give me a world in which it’s plausible that Beyonce could have killed JFK, along with proper explanation of how she got to that point (A equaling B equaling C), and your story argument is on its way to a place of validity where I can begin to abandon my disbelief.
As readers, we will accept that anything can happen if you, as the writer, argue the point well enough. But if you let story logic slip, you lose the reading trance you had me in and I begin to ask myself whether I should be reading something else. For example, if I argued that vampires could attack Bayside High, you would think I’d been huffing my 90′s era Saved By the Smell cologne, (it’s not a thing, but it should have been). But if I had said that vampires could attack Sunnydale High, you’d only roll your eyes at the obvious nature of my statement. Why? They’re both high schools. They’re both even high schools where it could be argued that supernatural things are known to happen (Zack stops time and talks to the voyeuristic outside people all the time.) So, why is it so hard to accept that, one fateful Prom night, a band of roving bloodsuckers might savagely murder the cast (how excited are you now, Jessie Spano?), except Zack, who would obviously stop time to escape, and Kelly Kapowski, because she would obviously be turned and promptly become their vampire queen (duh). The problem is the premise doesn’t match the conclusion you’ve made. Despite Zack’s time manipulating abilities, we are led to believe for seventeen bajillion seasons that this is your average high school. Such a twist would betray what had come before; feel tacked on. (It’s why people despised the fact that the blue-collar family of Rosanne won the lottery. …How’s that for a current example? I gots my fingers on the pulse of today’s youth!) So, the next time you make an argument about wages at Wal-Mart or werewolves in the walls, just make sure it doesn’t suck.