Yesterday I was writing part III to The Birth of Egypt, and it was incredibly frustrating because I couldn’t write a full paragraph without looking something up.

I’d get one sentence down, then find myself reaching for Google because I’d realise I was missing some knowledge, some detail, to make it complete.

It went something like this…

“Her eyes went wide as saucers…"

Oh, shit. Wait. Ancient Egyptians didn’t use saucers, did they?

google: cutlery in ancient egypt

Okay, they typically brought the food out on a shared tray and everyone ate with their hands, washing hands before and after eating, so plates weren’t really a thing.

What can her eyes be wide as then? The moon? I have Khonsu in this scene… Yah, that works.

“He picked up the wine…”

Wait, what did they drink out of? Cups? Bowls?

google: drinking cups ancient egypt

*falls down a rabbit hole trying to find the right answer*

It doesn’t help that other ancient cultures have a lot more information available on them (because a lot more of them survived), and ancient Egypt tends to get buried underneath what the Greeks said and (disparagingly) thought about them.

But I want to stay true to the internal logic of my narrative because it makes it more immersive.

What is internal logic in a story?

Maybe this is best answered by telling you what external logic is.

External logic is what you, the reader, knows.

So, if I write “her eyes went wide as saucers” in a story where the world doesn’t really use plates, you probably won’t bat an eye at it.

Because you’re familiar with the expression.

You’re familiar with plates, after all.

But the ancient Egyptians would have said something else, something that didn’t compare widening eyes to saucers.

In this case, I went with comparing her wide eyes to twin full moons, which was both apt as the Moon God was present in the scene, and tracks for internal logic.

Traversing that border for internal and external logic isn’t always easy.

I once helped a friend with a story that was originally set in the 60s, when smoking wasn’t strictly controlled as it is today. So, when the character lit up a ciggy inside a dorm, that was pretty normal. But, when she changed the story to be set in a modern era, the smoking inside became an issue.

Either he’d not do it inside at all. Or he’d try to cover his tracks, if he did.

Because in either case, he’d have grown up in a time when allowing indoor smoking would have been the exception, not the rule.

So, it wasn’t a large adjustment – to either make him hang his arm out the window and spray the room down afterwards, or simply go outside (as would likely be his habit if he was a modern smoker) – but it was an adjustment to align the narrative with the internal logic of the world.

The fun with internal/external logic comes when you can toy with it.

Knowingly breaking logic rules can make the story better, give it a bit of zest and punch that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

I consciously broke internal logic rules when I used the term “raging boner” in The Birth of Egypt.

It isn’t that an ancient Egyptian wouldn’t have known what an erection was, but those words are quintessentially modern, and it would have been expressed differently in antiquity.

But as the stories are shorts, and don’t take themselves very seriously, I have leeway to do things like that.

Naturally, if I was writing for an ancient Egyptian audience, I’d have to do it differently. But I’m writing for a specific, modern audience that will understand what I mean.

And hopefully appreciate the story all the more for it.

How to tell when you’ve succeeded with internal logic?

Or rather, succeeded in breaking internal logic.

If your reader coasts through the text, fully accepting that what you tell them is true for those characters and that world, you’ve successfully constructed your narrative to adhere to the rules of internal logic.

If you slip in a thing or two, that knowingly break internal logic, but it just seems logical or makes the reader chuckle at it, you’ve been successful.

However, if you’ve got readers sitting there going, “Hold on, would Bruce Wayne go to the beach with the Batman suit head?” (and it’s not a conscious part of the story, which you address in-text), you’ve got an issue.

Because that question alone threatens to drop your reader out of the story.

And if it happens again and again and again, they fall further back into reality every time. Which means they aren’t being carried away by your story.

Which means they’ll eventually stop reading.

Because it’s too confusing. Because it’s too illogical. Because it’s getting irritating.

Comedy is a great example of extreme brinkmanship when it comes to toying with story logic. When done well, you’ll buy even the most outlandish set-ups, worlds and behaviours.

When it’s done poorly, it just feels crass and falls flat on its face.

The more you adhere to the internal logic of your story, the more of a trip you’ll take your reader on.

Because it’s often those little details that’ll make your reader feel transported in time and space, and will help them suspend their belief to go on the adventure you’re inviting them on.

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