Contradictions bother me deeply. My logical brain has earned me the monicker “Spock” on multiple occasions, so that would hardly come as a surprise to those who know me. I am always trying to derive patterns and understand how everything works together, which requires there to be a consistent underpinning to the whole system. When it comes to the universe, that would be some kind of Grand Unified Theory, the holy grail of theoretical physics. In more human contexts, that can be as deep as a Universal Law (Kant’s philosophy), or as direct as secular legislation. Obviously, the world in which we leave is not nearly so straightforward, and no amount of mental wrestling can force it into logical shape. As much as Ayn Rand claimed that there are no contradictions, just incorrect precepts, I think some contradictions are inevitable when multiple humans are involved (although those contradictions can be resolved at certain levels logically, it does not make them any less contradictory, if that makes sense).

Perhaps it’s not terribly surprising then that I try to avoid introducing contradictions into my fictional worlds. For most of the time that I’ve been writing, I’ve operated in world creation under the premise that contradictions in world-building will drive readers away and make the world less believable. After all, overt contradictions would seem to undermine the idea of plausible impossibility, and leave the reader less immersed in the world. A contradiction can act like a sort of car accident that abruptly stops the flow of traffic and ejects the reader from the story.

Yet there are times when contradictions will actually make for a stronger world. It can act as an element of mystery, or it can simply make the reader experience more realistic. Since our “real” world is full of apparent contradictions (whether or not they are truly contradictions under the right precepts), a perfectly non-contradictory world would be perhaps as or more jarring than the contradictions themselves. Knowing what the right contradictions are to make sure that they add to the story, rather than detracting from it, is part of the art of world-creation, and it is a part with which I have struggled significantly.

One trick that I have developed to help me is to create apparent contradictions for the reader by creating the world without contradictions, but then omitting certain pieces of information so that the reader can’t see the parts of the puzzle that would solve the contradictions that they encounter. My Fo’Fonas series hugely leverages this technique, for everything from minor societal details between characters, to the magic system itself. You may also have noticed it in Blood Magic: the visitors from episode 5 employ magic differently from the priests we’ve encountered from the Isle of Blood (compare how ice is conjured in episode 2 versus episode 5). I know exactly why that is and the reasons for the difference, but I haven’t explained it to my readers, nor do I have any intention to explain it.

I’m not suggesting that you riddle your work with contradictions – that will make it difficult to read and keep the reader from understanding what is occurring. Well-employed contradictions, though, can help make a world feel richer and more immersive, and will make a story less formulaic. As much as it might make me twitch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s