Sep 05 2008

John August on Coincidences in Fiction

Published by at 3:27 am under Heroes,Plotting,Writing Articles

John August did a post on writing a plot that isn’t contrived.  He focused on the role of coincidence. I found it highly useful…

Given a choice, try to find cause and effect. One event happens because of something else we’ve seen — ideally, something the hero himself has done.

Instead of having the hero accidentally overhear a key conversation, get him actively trying to listen. Or have an interested third party steer him in that direction — perhaps for his own reasons. At every juncture where a reader could ask “Why did that happen?”, try to have an answer that isn’t, “just because.”

CADET DAVIS ADDS: The most contrived plot I can think of is Heroes season 2.  Please consider the following…

  1. In the last two minutes of the first season, Sylar is nearly killed by a crowd of ten heroes but somehow slinks away into a sewer.  No one, including a psychopathic MPD victim or the police officer who was seriously wounded by Sylar, thinks to make sure that he’s dead or otherwise accounted for.
  2. The Company captures Sylar and keeps the formerly-superpowered serial killer in a zero-security facility with a single attendant that is tasked with restoring Sylar’s powers. There’s no reason to suspect that Sylar would have made a good employee under any circumstances, but how were they hoping that this would turn out?
  3. Sylar kills the attendant and walks out of the facility.  He tries to return to the US to find Suresh, but he drops of famine along the side of the road.  The first person to come across him is Maya, another superpowered person that’s looking for Dr. Suresh’s father.  What a lucky break!  Sure, why not come along?
  4. In spite of being wanted for murder and presumably not wanting to attract suspicion, Maya and her brother take Sylar along.  Do not pay attention to the gringo in the back seat!
  5. Peter’s failure to consider the possibility that Adam is evil starts out as implausible and gets so unbelievable that it strains the suspension of disbelief.  Peter knows the following facts:  The Company has held the virus for 30+ years without using it.  Shortly after Adam escapes, the virus is unleashed.  If you’re wondering whether Adam’s escape is related to the release of the virus, you’re already 5 episodes smarter than Peter.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “John August on Coincidences in Fiction”

  1. Patrick McKenzieon 07 Sep 2008 at 8:38 pm

    If you’re wondering whether Adam’s escape is related to the release of the virus, you’re already 5 episodes smarter than Peter.

    Everything before the comma here is superflous, isn’t it? Peter seriously needs to walk by someone whose superpower is a 3 digit IQ sometime.

  2. B. Macon 07 Sep 2008 at 8:51 pm

    I’m not sure if this redeems the Heroes writers, but he is consistently portrayed as slow-witted. For example, in the last episode of season 1, instead of flying away or teleporting to save New York from his imminent nuclear meltdown, he just kind of stands there and stares at his glowing body. Fortunately, Nathan is more intelligent.

    Besides the horrible writing and bloated cast of season 2, I think that Heroes’ biggest weakness is the actor that plays Peter.

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