I’ve been reading a lot more mystery novels lately. Wonderful things really, always good to exercise the brain sometimes. That led me to thinking about constructing intricate and logical plots (for mysteries, this is essential) and how I could apply some of the concepts I’m learning from mystery-reading to my own work.

That got me thinking of geometry (god, I hated you geometry, but some part of you penetrated my poor, abused brain and has stuck with me ever since I had to take you). The same concept was in my LSAT prep book and they called it logic games. Essentially, the point of the exercise (in geometry and also in law school) is to find the flawed logic, that place where you jump to a conclusion that has no real evidence. Something may seem to have a specific conclusion but not necessarily.

For example, if I saw a tall, strong-looking man hurrying from a convenience store in the morning and then later that night heard on the television that “a convenience store was robbed earlier today,” I could say that the man I saw robbed the convenience store. Do I know for certain? Is it even the same convenience store? Was the man running away or was he in a hurry? These are all questions that challenge my assertion.

Evidence (what really happened): I saw a tall, strong-looking man. He seemed to be in a hurry. He exited a convenience store. It is morning. The news states that a convenience store was robbed.

My assertion: The man I saw in the morning robbed that convenience store.

Challenges to my assertion: Is it the right convenience store? Is it the right man? Neither question can be answered through the evidence. This pertains to that scene in law TV shows and movies when the lawyer talks to the jury and says, “Can you convict my client WITHOUT ANY REASONABLE DOUBT.” This means, “Hey, you might think he did it but is there even a chance that he didn’t? If there is even one logical reason for him not to be guilty, then you have to vote the other way.” This is also why lawyers and cops will say things like “an air-tight case” or “insufficient evidence.”

For mysteries, this is a phenomenal exercise – not just for figuring out whodunnit, but also for character development. Because even if you, as the write, knows that Billy is the killer, the main character Tim might not know it. Even more, he might think Angela did it because he saw her acting suspiciously one night. Hell, he might be so convinced that it’s Angela, he’s gotten other people to believe him. So even if there is no hard evidence that Angela did it, everyone thinks she did.

For other writing, this is important too. Even if no one gets killed or there is no mystery, this line of thinking can be important for who throws blame on whom, what people can get away with, and how characters think. Everyone draws conclusions from their own experiences. People have their own way of gathering evidence, and everyone’s definition of “evidence” is different. Someone else may have seen my harried tall, strong-guy rushing out of the convenience store and called the police saying that they have evidence that he is indeed the one who robbed the store. Find out what your characters’ prejudices are and you’ll see how they process “evidence” and draw their own conclusions.

On a sentence level, this line of thinking is also really good for metaphors and similes. For those who are fuzzy from grammar school, a metaphor is when you compare one thing to another like so: “The early dawn’s light caressed her face through the shuttered window.” Light does not caress: that is a human trait. A simile is the same thing, except you use the word “like” or “as” so the comparison is more obvious: “His kiss was like a warm glove against her lips.”

How to use logic games with metaphors are similes: first of all, does it even make sense? I’ve read some metaphors where I was left thinking, “Huh?” Second, make sure that the metaphor is… actually a metaphor. For example, in Twilight (always ready with easy examples), Edward Cullen is described as being “like a marble statue.” From the text, we are told that his skin has the same temperature and quality of marble, not to mention the strength. Even when vampire skin/body parts are broken, they don’t break like flesh and blood: they shatter and fracture like marble. So, for all intents and purposes, their bodies actually ARE marble statues come to life.