Friday, September 14, 2018

Logic Problem

Another one of those examples from Critique Circle.  Someone posted a query and it was kind of funny to me because it says:
When H discovers that one of her ancestors was among those murdered by S's witch hunters, she calls upon the best witch she knows—her sister B—and together they travel back in time to save the girl’s life. 
[Names redacted]

This really made no sense to me.  You find out some ancestor was murdered and so you go back in time to save her.  Wait, what?  It's so super casual in this query how in one sentence she decides to go back in time to save a complete stranger she only read about recently in a book.

I guess you could say I'm being picky but it seemed like a gap in logic.  If I have a sister who can use magic to time travel, am I going back to save some ancestor 325 years ago first thing?  I mean I think I'd go back to buy a lottery ticket first.  Then maybe save JFK or kill Hitler or keep Trump from running for president.

When I mentioned this the author got all snotty about it.  Isn't saving a child's life enough?  Wouldn't anyone do that?  Um...not really.  I mean if it's a child I know then maybe I would if I have the means.  But a child I read about in a book who died 325 years ago?  Am I going to just drop everything and travel back in time to the Salem Witch Trials?  That's a lot of danger to undergo for a complete stranger and basically on a whim.

Star Trek had a number of time travel episodes but the lamest was when they went back to 1968 (what was then the present) for basically no reason except to set up the pilot for a show that never happened anyway.  It was really dumb because there was no reason to go back in time except that the story called for it.  So on some flimsy excuse they just go back in time with like no setup.

Other episodes were done much better.  The famous City on the Edge of Forever they go back in time when Bones goes crazy and jumps through the gateway, altering the history to destroy the Federation.  Kirk didn't see the gateway and say, "Hey, I'm going to go save Edith Keeler!"  And then jump through.  It wouldn't have made sense.

Similarly in First Contact the Borg go back in time to destroy humanity before it can contact the Vulcans and usher in the Federation.  The Enterprise follows to prevent Earth from being assimilated.  It's not like Captain Picard read about an ancestor dying in a book and decided to go back in time to save her.

Anyway, I'm not saying the story is a piece of shit, but there needs to be a logical bridge from cause to effect.  Now if H reads about her ancestor's death and then some of S's goons try to kill her so she can't reveal their activities then it might make sense that she wants to go back in time to stop them in the past.  Or if the girl's ghost shows up to beseech H to save her.  Or you can always just make it an accident:  she opens a book or touches an artifact and goes back to that era.

The point being stories aren't like the real world; you don't want a lot of just random stuff happening.  And especially when you write a query you need to have your logic so the agent's intern can follow it.  If your query seemingly makes random jumps--or just very weak jumps--they'll probably figure your manuscript is that way too.

It was one of those weird moments when other people on the board actually agreed with me.  I figured there'd be some mushheads who'd say, This is Fine.  There usually are.


  1. I think what you're saying is that the stakes have to be bigger. Like saving the Earth and/or drastically changing history. Just the saving of one person that we know nothing about really isn't all that hookish.

  2. Good article. Time travel stories have to make sense. And as a writer you have to be careful and not use time travel as a deus ex machina



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