Fantasy and Lapses of Logic

Christian Fantasy Writing

As a genre, fantasy requires a certain degree of creativity. It relies on freedom of imagination, which results in the construction of wondrous realms, full of terrors and delights. And yet the application of reason and logic plays a vital role in this creative process, for the lack of it will result in worlds that ring false to readers.

This struck me anew when I read a fantasy novel in which the society was agrarian, yet placed high esteem on academics and book work, with the result that  farmers would leave their land, no matter the season, for the chance of academic advancement. I’m sure a reason for this could have been invented, but rather than attempt to create a framework in which these conflicting elements made sense, it was treated as normal that these men would abandon their responsibilities–the demands of planting and harvest and tending crops–for the opportunity to sit under a teacher whenever he happened to be in the area. As a result, I was reminded of the fictional nature of the world, and there was a break in the fictive dream.

In such a way, elements of worldbuilding that seem implausible tend to cause a momentary break in the “suspension of unbelief” and can eventually derail a story, if accumulated in sufficient number.

Especially in fantasy, it’s vital to have an sense of internal consistency and to blend rational thought with imagination. As artist Francisco Goya once said, “Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”

I think every writer hopes to give visions of marvels that intrigue and inspire, rather than impossible monsters that distract from their stories. To craft the most compelling storyworlds, we need imagination and reason both. There’s a time for the heady rush of creativity, and there’s a time to objectively evaluate the words and realms created.

What do you think? Have you encountered “impossible monsters” in books you’ve read? Do these lapses in logic cause you to set aside a book or will you tolerate them for the sake of the story? And if you write, how do you avoid internal inconsistencies in your worldbuilding?

Image credit: mrlins


  • Patrick J. Moore
    January 10, 2012 - 12:17 pm · Reply

    I’m thinking of the living cheese in Terry Pratchett’s Wintersmith. There are many unbelievable creatures in his books, but disbelief seems easier to suspend when fantasy is combined with comedy… but for some reason that cheese seems out of place in a world where it is hard to imagine anything being out of place.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      January 12, 2012 - 3:16 pm · Reply

      Oh my. I haven’t read Wintersmith, but I can imagine how a living cheese would break the fictive dream. 🙂 It seems to me that most speculative readers are willing to accept a number of oddities, as long as they all seem to fit together in a consistent fashion. The one that doesn’t fit can easily become the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, as in your case with Wintersmith. As a reader, the more I’m hooked by the story, the more I’m willing to forgive inconsistent elements, but sometimes it becomes impossible.

      • Patrick J. Moore
        January 17, 2012 - 11:42 am · Reply

        I had several issues with the “Wintersmith” story, and Horace the blue cheese does seem to be the proverbial straw for me. I’ve loved the Tiffany Aching series up to this point (“Wee Free Men”, & “Hat Full of Sky”), and plan to continue on with “I Shall Wear Midnight” because I like the Tiffany character and the first two stories so much.

        I’m in agreement with the others that those impossible inconsistencies make for forgettable stories, and so the only reason I could recall something to share here is because it was in a book I was currently reading. I know I’ve run across such things before, but I just don’t remember where.

  • Kessie
    January 10, 2012 - 4:22 pm · Reply

    I’ve struggled to recall implausibilities in books, but bad books usually get expunged from my consciousness.

    I was just griping about a bad movie, though. It was called Red Planet or something else really generic, about some astronauts who get stranded on Mars during a terraforming attempt. At one point, one guy gets eaten by nematodes, these little spiky green bug things that punch his suit full of holes.

    Except nematodes are actually a type of worm that provides lots of benefits to soil. I watched that scene in that movie exclaiming, “WHAT!” The movie had been somewhat plausible for me up until that point.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      January 12, 2012 - 3:18 pm · Reply

      I tend to do the same, Kessie. Bad books usually don’t stick with me for any length of time, unless they provide a specific illustration of something I hope to avoid in my own writing.

      Your film example definitely works, and it offers a good reminder that if speculative writers use something specific that exists in real life (like nematodes), it should have a close resemblance to it’s actual counterpart or a solid reason why it’s drastically different but goes by the same name. Otherwise, it’s jarring to readers/viewers.

  • TheQuietPen
    January 12, 2012 - 11:21 am · Reply

    Like Kessie, I tend to expunge bad books from my consciousness. And I agree, Red Planet was a badly thought-out movie.

    I’m reminded of the useless appendages and bits and bobs attached to “aliens of the week” in Star Trek or other space exploration shows. I know sometimes the make-up people are at a loss, but it really looked like they just slapped some silly putty and paper mache on the extras. There’s only so much you can explain away with the “they’re aliens, they’re supposed to look weird–who are we to judge” reasoning.

    In my writing, internal consistency issues mostly come up when I change one thing, and fail to take into account how it affects everything else–sort of like that farmer-teacher problem you mentioned. This can be a problem in non-fantasy novels as well–one tweak to a character’s personality or background can change their interactions with others, which in turn means the “role” they play in affecting the main character may not fit so well anymore.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      January 12, 2012 - 3:21 pm · Reply

      The random extra appendages and oddments that make up aliens or other races in speculative films can easily push me beyond willingness to suspend disbelief also–mainly if they don’t seem to have any practical function. Every part of the human body serves a purpose, and if there were aliens, I would expect that to be the case also.

      Good examples of how internal consistency problems develop. I’ve had several similar cases in my own works, where I’ve made change mid-draft and then had to go back and fix a number of other things during the editing process to keep everything consistent. That’s why I’m a fan of careful editing and input from critique partners. No story will be perfect, and sometimes a consistency problem will slip by unnoticed despite careful effort, but focused editing does help.

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