Rationalizing a Story for Better Results


Vision 75


Rationalizing a Story for Better Results


Jordan Cohen

Copyright © 2014, Jordan Cohen, All Rights Reserved



The balancing of an author’s dreams and what he or she are capable of producing is a tricky task. Some are blessed with a wonderful ideal of their story, the land in which it is set, and they know how each character will act, but are unable to transform this vision into the form of written language.

Nearly every plot has rules established by the author to create a limited area around its premise where impossibilities can occur. In some plots, namely fantasy or science fiction, the limited area is large, leaving plenty of room for the author to maneuver. In others, such as realistic fiction, this limited area is far smaller, forcing the author to look more closely at each scene. Losing sight of where these limits are can cause the writer to break through them…and doing so can seriously hurt the story the author is attempting to tell. Never rationalize merely in your head, make sure to do so in writing.

But this article is focused on the side effect of such an imbalance, when the author has a wonderful world or narrative pictured in their mind, but is just barely unable to match it with their words, and so glosses over the details they cannot properly express.

The common, popular term for this effect is a “plot hole”. A plot hole is where something occurs that cannot be explained, sort of like a skip in a song. There is a gap in the narrative, and there is no explanation for it. This in itself is not necessarily an issue, unless the writer breaks his or her own rules in order to accomplish the desired results. When this occurs, the limits established by the plot are torn, and the plot can suffer accordingly. Take the classic book Frankenstein, which has a textbook example relatively early in the narrative.

Mary Shelley clearly put effort into making sure that the base from which Dr. Frankenstein grew was a happy and contented one. He was surrounded by love in his family, and great affection by his few close friends. He was supposedly a brilliant, generally level-headed, affectionate young man. This is the basis from which we gain the character of Victor Frankenstein. Then it all goes wrong. Frankenstein loses himself in his work and goes mad. This is where Shelley breaks her own rules.

It is not in the creation of the monster that her narrative falters, despite the lack of details given to the reader. As readers, we can expect that even in a mostly realistic setting, the fantastical may happen. Clearly, Victor is a brilliant student who holds the knowledge, the link to creating the monster, a link we do not need to understand the story, as even he says, "After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter" (Shelley, 22). This expresses his effort, but not the result. But then Shelley makes the mistake of glossing over something very integral to the story, Victor’s closeness with his friends and family.

Despite Victor’s apparent familial bonds, no one notices, or at least grows concerned enough of his well-being to intervene, when even he admits he was not in his right mind. True, his father noticed the lack of communication, but Victor admits that his "father made no reproach in his letters and only took notice of my silence by inquiring into my occupations more particularly than before" (Shelley, 24). Victor is left completely uninterrupted, but surely such an affectionate father would be more concerned at a sudden breaking of communication.

In order to have Victor create the monster, he must not be interrupted by those bonds. Without the monster, there is no story. So Shelley breaks her own world that she very carefully put together, because the plot, in her own mind, required it. The monster was the important factor, the means of acquiring its existence far less so. Once the monster has been created, Victor's friend is free to come to the University and discover the shock that's overtaken Frankenstein.

This is where the issue of breaking one’s own rules arises. The monster’s creation is a plot hole, when Victor accomplishes the impossible, but it can be overlooked because it is not expressly contradicted. The fact that no one notices Victor’s slow descent into madness, including his professors, is extremely suspect and detracts somewhat from the power of that part of the book. That his friend arrives at just the right moment is an obvious plot device. Similar to laying bare the simple mechanics of a wondrous machine, it kills the magic. This does not make Frankenstein a weak piece of prose by any measure, but the lesson can be applied to any work of fiction.

The trick to creating a believable world is to make it make sense by its own logic. We can understand Jules Verne’s imaginative Journey to the Centre of the Earth because the story makes it clear from the beginning that this is a part of the book’s fictional version of the world: to enter the center of the Earth. These larger impossibilities are the easiest thing for a writer to fix.

It’s in the smaller details that a writer can lose focus for the sake of advancing the vision in their head. In 1984, Orwell spends much of his time explaining the great bureaucracy that the party controls, the furious pace they work at in order to defeat their rivals…and yet even such a massive, focused entity doesn’t take advantage of the countryside’s flat land and urbanize it in favor of making more weapons or something of the sort. "In the ragged hedge on the opposite side the boughs of the elm trees swayed just perceptibly in the breeze" (Orwell, 123). These trees are not being harvested, going against the industrial qualities of the Oceania government. Clearly the country is not used to the extent it could be for food and resources, and for a country perpetually at war, this is extremely strange. Easily overlooked, it puts a small crack in the image Orwell creates, lessening the impact slightly by making the setting less plausible.

Every large building is made of millions of smaller blocks, and so is a novel. It’s important to not leave a small hole if possible, because small breaks can lessen the impact of the overall story. When creating a novel, look at each scene and ask yourself if it is plausible for a character to act a certain way, or for an event to occur. Many authors can hurt themselves while editing by rationalizing explanations for issues that occur without expressing that rationalization within the story. Therefore, if you find yourself rationalizing an event, check to make sure your rationalization is expressed in the story. Doing so will create a stronger story, satisfying the reader on a deeper level.


George Orwell

ISBN-13: 9780451524935

Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated

For Frankenstein:


Journey to the Center of the Earth:

Jules Verne



Oxford University Press, USA; Reprint edition (August 1, 2008)


Jordan Cohen is a poet by choice who writes some short stories on the side. He spends much of his time reading, writing, and procrastinating. Having joined Forward Motion back in 2010, he loves to learn from all the fantastic writers there, put in a few comments, and overall become a better writer. He goes by TobeOrNotTobe on the main FM site. He will be attending college at Rutgers University this fall.