My daughter graduated from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine on Friday, May 11th, 2012 (the 63rd such Commencement). Author James Rollins is also an alumnus, but I digress. The completion of her studies finally allowed her sufficient free time to read her father’s first novel, Earth Angel (which had been collecting magnetic particles on her electronic TBR shelf for over a year). When she finished, she asked me a question as to why Angel acquired control of the Veil, while prior entities who entered the Veil didn’t. Initially, I thought the answer was res ipsa loquitur (literally, “The thing speaks for itself”, a legal term used when the evidence presents a fairly certain conclusion as to liability, such as the negligence of the driver who rear ends a stopped vehicle). The living Angel entered the Veil inadvertently and became a part of it. Other entities entered the Veil through the cessation of their existences. However, since Rachael is a careful reader, but still questioned the matter, at some point I may want to go back in and clarify the issue.
Dammit, Jim. I’m a pantser, not a plotter. The issue of how Angel acquires her powers is an example of a potential plotting pothole. As a pantser, I frequently have no idea what my characters are going to do until the Muse informs me that they actually are doing something. Accordingly, it is not uncommon for me to have to go back and lay a foundation for a character’s actions that would have been easier to insert the first time through a chapter if only the Muse had warned me the insertion would be needed later. Once the proper foundation is laid, then the reader is more likely to accept subsequent plot developments as res ipsa loquitur.
The same foundational problems can arise with a character’s motivation. I edited a novel wherein the author spent the first chapter establishing a very strong, Type A personality, self-absorbed heroine. The heroine is at the pinnacle of her career, and is about to close a major deal. She enjoys the status and material benefits that her job affords her. Just before this major deal is to close, she gets word that her mother is dying. Several years earlier, the women had a falling out over the heroine’s job, and hadn’t spoken since. Her mother dies, but leaves a package in a safe deposit box with instructions that the heroine is supposed to deliver the package to an individual who lives in another state in a far removed rural location. The heroine drops everything to deliver the package.
When I questioned the author about why the heroine would drop everything to deliver the package, essentially her answer was res ipsa loquitur. She told me that it was the mother’s dying wish, and the heroine felt duty bound. Well, from a reader’s perspective, if heroine is so focused on her job and herself, and hasn’t even spoken to the mother in years, where did the sense of duty come from? I suggested that she needed to add in the heroine’s unresolved guilt over her last fight with her mother with whom she was very close when she was a child, to explain why the heroine didn’t just send the package off by an overnight delivery service.
While willing suspension of disbelief will allow the reader to bridge some plotting and logical chasms (particularly in the genres of fantasy and science fiction, e.g. accepting that super heroes can fly without any apparent means of propulsion), the fewer and narrower the obstacles, the more likely the reader will be satisfied with the end result. While a proposition may appear “obvious” to the author, the author needs to ensure that there is sufficient detail to allow the reader to come to the same foregone conclusions.
CK Copyright 5/13/12; Moral rights to be identified as the author of the foregoing article asserted worldwide (including in Great Britain in accordance with Sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act of 1988)