Can I? When Doubt Kills Your Ideas

Alright! The Muses sing, drawing you to the desk, pump your veins with hot blood and fill your mind with combustible imagination. You’re on fire and ready to write. The idea once tumbling in your mind is bucking with life and wants to breath words on your screen. It’s awesome. You’re awesome. All is good.

Then the passions temper under the cool, steady light of your computer screen. The process of fleshing out your idea with words demands time. So much so, you feel the vibrant energy of your story suffocate under the process. Now you’re using the logical, analytical side of your brain. Each scene or circumstance demands continuity and must fit into the internal logic of your world. Everything must make sense; else the reader will dismiss this pile of junk for amateur hubris.

With logic comes the questions. A train of them, each rumbling down the tracks uncaring of the idea which once bucked in the stables of your mind, eager for freedom, now tied to the rails. All of the doubts can easily be summarized into “Can I?”

Of course, this isn’t the real question haunting the halls of your mind. The real question is “does it make sense?”

Does it make sense for a dragon to love a human?

Does the magic system make sense?

Does the social construct I want to use make sense?

Does this awesome character trait make sense?

I hope you’re sitting down. This may rattle what remained of your original gusto. If you’re asking this question, then the answer is no. None of it makes sense. Hold on, put your knives away. I have a wife and kids! And I have proof!

You, oh author, are the first audience of your work. You possess a level of logical deduction falling within the general spectrum of your audience. That doubt you feel? That resistance? That’s your logic hijacking your subconscious and trying to steer you off the course you’ve taken. It senses the danger that you don’t see. It knows that just past that bend is a sheer cliff leading to a valley of dead ideas. It wants to save your story.

Knives still out? Well, the good news is it’s your mess. Also, you have the power to fix it. Here are the things I consider when I run face-first into a wall of logic.

All Stories are Entrenched in the Human Condition

What does that have to do with anything? Well, plenty. Save for the hyper intelligent cat or the self-aware AI, anyone who picks up your story will be a human. As such, they have their own set of experiences as well as an ancestral narrative which firmly defines their sense of the probable and plausible.

Beyond those experiences, most readers will have a shared spectrum of emotional reactions. These emotions are what you, the author, want to tug on for the story to latch onto their hearts and leech blood to stir its own life.

There are those characters who work outside of our emotional spectrum. These psychopaths operate outside of our common empathic range. Stories can feature psychopaths because they invert us. We understand them because they act in the negative spectrum of our common reasoning and, as such, we use our common reasoning as a baseline for comparison.

That said, your characters will most likely mimic the reader’s emotional spectrum. They will react as readers would react. They will exist in a world where their emotions evolve the same as ours.

Until it doesn’t.

Internal Logic

The great things about living, breathing humans is their ability to negotiate. They’ll gladly give the author time to pitch them their fantastic idea if their attention was bought with something. Whether it’s solid prose, or an interesting character, or a solid premise.

With the purchased patience in your pocket, you’re able to pitch the unbelievable. They will give you enough time to see what else your selling, and if it’s done before they lose interest, they may buy that, too. Surround your unbelievable with other commonly accept currency. Bribe them for the time. Bribe them to invest in your story. Bribe them to set up the next leg.

What is normal in a work of fiction? Slap fantasy on that genre and suddenly you’re given so much room to explore the unbelievable. The key, of course, is that all the unbelievable you want to showcase must follow an internal world logic.

Do women only have the ability to shapeshift? Sure, so long as this is established, and the world exposed to this bizarre trait react accordingly.

Does a nation follow the leadership of children? Why not. Make the internal logic work for this nation. Make it believable to these people.

Are wars settled by a competition of dancers? Have at it. As long as the rules are followed, and the repercussions of actual war cause an unwanted consequence.

At the end of the day, we write fantasy. Fantasy allows the author the freedom to explore, wait for it, fantastic ideas. Don’t shy away from the challenge. Don’t ask “Can I?” Instead, ask “How do I?”

Here are some question to ask yourself:

  • Why does this idea work in my story?
  • What happens if my idea is rejected by the population of this world?
  • What, if any, exceptions exist to this idea?
  • Who is affected by this idea?
  • Will this idea endure?
  • What opposes this idea?
  • What is the scope of this idea?

What ideas have you felt uncertain about writing? What has helped you overcome your reluctance? Are you happy with the outcome? What ideas have you discarded?

Kassan Warrad