Friday, February 19, 2010

Tempting Fate


So I made it all the way through Mardi Gras without getting sick, only to succumb to a head cold yesterday. I must have tempted fate, bragging about how how I got my government mind control shot--er, I mean flu shot--which kept me healthy all winter long.

A few weeks ago (maybe it was just days, I don't recall when exactly. The sickness, she confuses me) Roni over at Fiction Groupie wrote a post about coincidences. Specifically, contrived coincidences.

Sure, coincidences happen in real life--that's why we say life is stranger than fiction. But just because something could possibly happen if all the stars aligned, it doesn't mean your reader is going to buy it.

I agree with her wholeheartedly about contrived coincidences that help your characters out. That just smacks of authorial intrusion and tip-toes into deus ex machina territory.

But what about "coincidences" that serve to keep your characters from their goals? Will you tolerate a coincidence with nasty results better than one that helps the protagonist?

Can people--and thus, characters--really "jinx" themselves by thinking they've almost reached their goal?

More importantly, can this device be overused just like the good coincidences to the point that they also feel contrived, too much like authorial intrusion?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Forewarned, I'm full up to my eyebrows with Sudafed and Emergen-c, so it might take me a while to respond. ;)

Hope everyone has a great weekend!

12 comments:

Rebecca Knight said...

Ooh, fascinating question!

I think bad coincidences get more leeway. Who hasn't had a run in with ol' Murphy in real life? However, taken too far, these, too, can get either comedic when they weren't intended to be, or lame.

I hope you feel better soon!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Those dang coincidences. They are so convenient and so deadly in a manuscript. I wrestle with them, for sure.

Susan R. Mills said...

I have one coincidence in my manuscript. It certainly doesn't help the protag out in any way. In fact, it causes her trouble. I'm not sure what my thoughts are on this. I'll have to think about it.

Julie Dao said...

I have a lot of trouble with writing convincing coincidences, whether they are for good or bad! They always seem so contrived somehow and I know that if I don't buy them, the reader won't either. Sigh. Work in progress!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Like anything else, I think they have benefits but shouldn't be overused. Feel better! :-)

Jade said...

Coincidences in my writing really freak me out. Even if they're possible in real life, I still think they'll look contrived in the story so I put a lot of consideration into whether or not I'll use them.

I hope you feel better soon.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I haven't really thought about the coincidences in my stories. But now I will! Thanks for giving me something to ponder. Hope you feel better soon.

Krispy said...

Good question. I haven't thought about the coincidences in my stories, so I guess I'll have a looksie now. Definitely know what you mean though. What bothered me about one of the books I recently read were moments that I just felt were really contrived, and I'm pretty sure at least one of those moments involved a convenient coincidence.

I think bad coincidences do get more leeway because I think everyone remembers those "bad days" better than the good. Everyone's had those days where it just feels like everything is against you. On the other hand, characters can definitely "jinx" themselves by thinking they've almost reached their goal. I mean, how many Dark/Evil Lords on the cusp of victory get their butts handed to them because they think they've won and slack off/get careless during the last push?

Hope you feel better soon! Sleep!!!

L.T. Elliot said...

Oh, I HATE contrived coincidence. It's one of the top reasons I'll put down a book.

beth said...

Best. Sick picture. Ever. Love it!

Carrie Harris said...

I think there's nothing wrong with letting your character relax a little before walloping them with something new and even worse than before! As long as the new and worse thing has a justification, I don't mind coincidental timing.

Tere Kirkland said...

Alright, this is good. I'm thinking a little coincidence can work to make your characters suffer (haha!), but too much is just as bad as helpful coincidences.