Does this happen to you? You’re reading along in a novel written by one of your favorite authors and you feel yourself somehow slipping out of the story. Or, you’re stopped, puzzled or bothered by an action or dialogue exchange that just doesn’t feel right. As if it doesn’t belong in a story or the protagonist, a hip twenty-year-old tattoo artist, would never call the guy in the bar a cad or dilettante.
These are small illustrations, but usually a faulty inner logic usually happens on a larger scale. For example, it could be the hero (as in good guy) killing off another character not because this death is necessary for the story, but just because the hero didn’t like the guy. If the hero is supposed to rescue the world, or solve the case, or win the day, we need to trust him. If he’s going to break bad, then the whole story should be about his downward arc. You say your protagonist is an antihero? These types can star in any story and use unusual and even illegal means to solve problems, but they still need a moral compass that readers understand.
Other problems that fall under inner logic: There isn’t a truly dramatic conflict at the center. The protagonist’s goal isn’t story worthy or it changes so much as the story goes along that readers cannot track what the protagonist wants. Too much of the story is not spent on answering the central dramatic question. A subplot or secondary character takes over the story. The story turns into the author’s soapbox. Or the real story doesn’t start until page 150 after a lot of back story and stasis.
One of the biggest problems with weak inner logic gone is motivation. Why did the protagonist whack his ex-girlfriend? Desperation? Jealousy? Fear? Revenge? The solution is to know the morality of your main characters—their values, moral dilemmas and decisions are the plot’s backbone.
Readers want the whys of life answered when reading fiction. Readers have internalized story structure from a lifetime of reading. They know that Act Two—things growing more complicated and surprises popping up—is followed by Act Three where matters come to a head, then a resolution follows. Fiction is a way to transfer nontransferable knowledge—that is knowledge a person cannot learn from his or her own experiences. This means readers learn and experience through fictional characters.
Humans are the only creatures that believe in worlds inside their imaginations. Worlds found between the covers of books. But all imaginary worlds are built from cause and effect, conflict coming to a boil, scarred, vulnerable characters going up against huge odds. For a reason.