Remember when you were little and adults tended to tell you that you couldn’t do something “because they said so?” That because I said so probably caused quite a bit of sulking (I know I was always miffed). It didn’t answer the question. It didn’t satisfy.
And it doesn’t satisfy in fiction either.
Right now you are probably saying, “Wait. Hold on, kalayna. Who would use ‘because I said’ so in their fiction? ” Okay, so writers don’t actually say those words, but many manuscripts convey that same idea. How? With illogical/lazy world building and with improperly motivated characters.
The dreaded “because I said so” syndrome appears in world building as “because it’s magic”. Reading any type of fiction requires a certain amount of suspension of belief but reading fantasy requires the most. Which means the fantasy writer needs to make her fantastical creatures and world all that more believable. The reader will accept that wizards can fling fireballs at zombies, but if that fire turns the zombies into butterflies, there better be a good reason why and it should be consistent with the world building. Accepting magic as being real in a story is easy, but accepting that magic is the only explanation won’t last long. If the writer doesn’t know how magic works in her world, it will show in her story and that is when the reader will shake his head and toss the book aside.
When it comes to characters, I see the unsaid “because I said so” most often as “because that’s how the story has to go”. The next point on the plot is a scene at the ice rink, so against all reason, the character heads off to the rink. The big busted co-ed heads down into the dark basement all alone and in just her underthings when she hears strange noises. The character is mugged but never even considers calling the police. Why?
Why indeed. Because that’s how the story goes. But that isn’t a satisfactory answer. It just makes the character look stupid and makes the reader yell at the book. To avoid the need to answer because the writer must make sure the character is properly motivated and not just being pulled along the plot by the writer’s plan.
Both holes in world building and in motivation can be hard to spot in our own work. That’s why fresh eyes are so important. If your critique partners or beta readers are writing back with comments like “why does she do this?” or “why/how does this happen?” then you might have an unwritten because I said so in your manuscript. And no one likes that answer.
Happy hump day everyone! This is the last Wednesday of May, so look for Faith to be returning to her regular spot in June.