Tag Archives: leading the reader

Logic takes you from A to B, or from here to there, but not everywhere.

In print, Sherlock Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson” . This famous catch phrase is a product of  liberties taken by Hollywood screen writers. In Sherlock Holmes films and later television versions, Holmes would utter this phrase to Dr. Watson before explaining  how his astute inductive processes (gathering clues and making observations)  resulted in one of his brilliant deductions. Inductive and deductive capabilities are not the exclusive domain of the sleuth or the scientist, but are inherent human traits evolved to ensure our survival as a species. Neanderthal hunters looked for clues as they tracked an animal, leading to deductions about the type, size, condition, path and possible location of the prey. Inductive and deductive reasoning is as essential for the survival of modern Homo Sapiens  as it was for the Neanderthal. Enabling the inductive and deductive processes of a reader through carefully constructed inductive hooks leading to deductive satisfaction is essential for the survival of the writers product, be it a work of fiction or non-fiction.

Information about types of reasoning, logical argument and the pitfalls of faulty logic is readily accessible from print sources or the internet. The following is a list of the main logical flaws that may confound a reader.

* Composition and division: Assuming what is true of the parts is true of the whole, and visa versa.

* Begging the question: Setting up an argument to match the desired conclusion.

* Non sequitur: A written line or idea that does not follow from the line or idea that precedes it.

* Ignoring the issue: This logical fallacy speaks for itself.

* False dilemma: Forcing an either/or choice when there are more than two things to choose from.

* Equivocation: Using a word with different meanings for the same term in the same logical argument.

This post is not about logic in writing, but rather about the importance of logical writing. Writing logically is critical on two fronts: first, logical writing keeps the reader on track with the content paragraph after paragraph; second, logical writing leads the reader to see (deduce) a writers intended outcome. Fiction and non-fiction writers have the same goal, but get there from different directions for different reasons.

In a work of fiction, the logical development of character and plot are essential. Although fiction writers may chose to lead the reader on a “goose chase” from time to time to enhance the suspenseful elements of his or her story, logic must prevail or a “goose chase” is likely to become a loose chase. Good narrative writing demands a writer have a logical plan for developing a story firmly in mind as they write.  The demand for a clear logical plan of story development is particularly important for writers who wish to produce stories with multiple simultaneous plot lines that eventually coalesce into one exciting or emotional conclusion.  I know someone who is struggling with the writing process, as he attempts to write a fiction as it pops into his head, without a logical plan in mind. Writing time is precious. A logical plan for a fiction is essential even though a fiction allows for a certain degree of freedom within the logical structure.

Logical planning of a non-fiction work is equally important and more straight forward than in a work of fiction. The overall plan for a work of non-fiction includes a logical sequence for each paragraph, for the paragraphs in a each section, for the sequence of sections and the relationships between sections in the completed project. Autobiographies and biographies may make use of purposefully constructed flashback elements, but in general, the logical flow in works of non-fiction should not jump around. Ideas presented need to be adequately supported by the fullness of the prose and correct diction. The level and formality of diction (the words selected) should be consistent with the target audience and the content type. The level of diction can range from moderate to complex and the level of formality ranges from informal to very formal. The axiom of moderation in all things is most appropriate in relation to the level and formality of diction in a written work, but a writer of non-fiction can never be moderate when it comes to the logical plan for his or her writing. Rigor in logical planning is the “watch word” for the writer of non-fiction, but care needs to be taken to ensure that rigour does not progress to rigor mortis.

The next planned post reflects on the significance of proper diction. Until then . . .

Leave a comment

Filed under The Big Picture