Coincidence? I think not!

“But while I advise you to embellish, I forbid you to depart from what is plausible. The reader has every right to feel aggrieved when he realizes that too much is being asked of him. He feels that the author is trying to deceive him, his pride suffers and he simply stops believing the moment he suspects he is being misled.” An Essay On Novels – The Marquis de Sade

Isn’t that great advice? Whether you write by the seat of your pants (pantser) or you meticulously plot out your story (plotter), you eventually will come to a point where you write yourself into a corner or your plot hits a wall. You have a couple options: scrap it and start over from the point you got yourself into that mess, or write yourself out of it. If you choose the latter, the challenge is writing a solution without taking the shortcut of using coincidences to bail yourself out. I read this advice from Emma Coates –one of Pixar’s story artists– years ago, and I never forgot it: “coincidences to get your characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it is cheating.” Not only that, like the Marquis said, it asks too much of the reader. image

Nevertheless, good storytelling depends on the element of surprise. No one wants to have the ending figured out in chapter three. The writer’s approach may be to:  1) slowly reveal clues that gradually build to a logical conclusion, or 2) misdirect us with spurious information, or 3) obfuscate the story so that at the climax, the truth is dropped like a bomb on the reader. The trick is to reveal the truth -as shocking as it may be- in a way that the reader think to himself, “of course!” because finally it all makes sense. The worst thing in the world is to leave the reader scratching his head at the end, wondering how the hell he got from there to here in 100,000 words, and regretting buying it on Amazon.

Header image via the poisoned pencil, David Tenant image via Pinterest.





44 thoughts on “Coincidence? I think not!

      1. A good story can be a little predictable. Certain events should unfold naturally. It needs to be believable. The devil is in the details. Making the ordinary interesting. Like the nasty mother in law tarnishing the perfect love story. Everything should have a few dents!

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I remember reading tom Wolfe’s a man in full (awful novel don’t bother) which was set mainly in Atlanta apart from a character who was in prison in California which was convenient as when he had a showdown with the badasses and things looked bad for our man a earthquake happened destroying the prison and yet our man was able to escape unharmed. Ludicrous. I throw the damned thing at the wall. Good advise must remember to follow it and I like the quote from the Divine Marquis. I am picturing him now as the worlds most dubious creative writing teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahaha! I threw that book at the wall, too! Never finished it. This is tremendous advice – I have highlighted a few more of his pearls of wisdom to share in future posts. I imagine class with the Marquis would rapidly deteriorate….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. (i like Sandra’s idea of the ‘Writing Help’ notebook. i should probably take all my taped up and stick-tacked printouts off my walls, ceiling, windows and door and put them in sleeves in a notebook.

    …but then, there goes all my wall insulation. hmm.)

    Wonderful observations and advice, Meg…definitely an addition to my walls!

    I’m enjoying all the comments on Roger’s site…they’re so edifying! And thank you for visiting and following The Old FOssil!

    Pearl 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Pearl! Personally I’m a post it note addict, too. My desktop monitor is overloaded with them. I think I’d forget about everything if I filed it all away. I need to have it right in front of me! 😀 And I just adore Roger!

      Liked by 1 person

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