You know that moment after the end of the show, when the credits are rolling and the glory of that crowning moment of awesome is just beginning to fade? When you go to the fridge to get something to eat, and all of a sudden that gaping plot hole or internal consistency problem with the story hits you? Yeah, that’s fridge logic.
The key, though, is that it’s not something you normally question while you’re reading the book or watching the show. While you’re in the story itself, the narrative is so compelling that you just don’t question it–that, or rule of cool is in play. It’s only after the story is over that those questions start to arise.
It doesn’t have to come from bad writing. Sometimes, it’s a result of values dissonance, especially for stories written in a different time or culture (although by no means is this phenomenon immune to bad writing). Sometimes, it’s a result of a tomato surprise, where a reveal of something the characters have known all along completely changes the audience’s understanding of the story (though certainly, this isn’t immune to bad writing either).
Not all fridge logic is bad. Fridge horror happens when a story becomes even more terrifying the more you think about it. Some of the scariest horror stories have done this to me, as well as some that weren’t really intended to finish on downer endings but kinda sorta did. Cracked.com did an interesting article on six movies that went that way.
But the best is when a story turns around and gives you fridge brilliance–that moment when you realize that that thing that bothered you actually changes the nature of the story in a way that suddenly makes it your favorite.
My favorite novel of all time, The Neverending Story, totally did this to me. When I first read it in fourth grade, there were so many things that made the story awesome: the Temple of a Thousand Doors, the test of the three gates, the old man who is the exact opposite of the Childlike Empress in every way, and of course the signature phrase “but that is another story and shall be told another time.” But when I reread it in college, I realized that the real story–the underlying story that brings everything together–isn’t about a loser kid having all sorts of adventures in a fantastic world, but about the power of storytelling itself, and how it can fill the world with love.
Another moment of fridge brilliance came to me when I learned the story behind the writing of Legend, my favorite novel by David Gemmell, my favorite fantasy writer. The book is about a hopeless battle that everyone knows cannot be won, and the people who decide to go and fight it anyway. That’s all well and good, except that David Gemmell wrote it immediately after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The story of the battle itself was a metaphor for his own life, and his struggle with his own impending death. Lucky for all of us, after he finished writing it the doctor came back and told him that the first test was a false positive–that he was going to live after all. He then went on to write almost thirty more books, all of them off-the-charts awesome.
So yeah, there you have it. These are more reader tropes than writer tropes, but as a writer it’s good to keep them in mind. Don’t be lazy, otherwise your fans will pick your stories apart (or if you have to leave a hole, be sure to hang a lampshade on it). And if you find yourself smacking your forehead over something you’ve already written and published, see if you can’t revisit it in later books in the series and turn it into fridge brilliance.