1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Building excitement vs stretching credulity?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by GingerCoffee, Feb 2, 2015.

    That's it, that's my question. I'm reading The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancy. It is excellent. There are a dozen coincidences that truly stretch credulity. And yet, I am so into this building tension, I don't care.

    Why? What is it about loving a story so much you don't care that it's full of impossible coincidences?
     
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  2. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm reminded of the way Dorothy L. Sayers said every work of art has three components: the Idea, the Energy (or the Execution), and the Power (or the Effect). The most perfect are equally balanced, but most come down heavily on one aspect or the other. It sounds like The Fifth Wave is firmly in the Power/Effect category, and Yancy has worked it so well you don't really care that the Idea is weak (or is it?) and the Energy/Execution is contrived.

    I read Sheridan Le Fanu's Uncle Silas four times before it hit me that the big thriller ending didn't make a lick of sense, for the characters or for anyone else.
     
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  3. Jenurik Name
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    Jenurik Name Member

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    I think it's valid if the author does with complete conviction. It's a polarizing approach - some of the readers will buy into it owing to the strength and emotion of the writing, but it's going to generate a percentage of readers who, while they were in an emotional state, were swept along for the ride. But then they had time to digest and now they're in a logical state of mind, and realize the contrivances that were necessary in order to set up the emotion.

    Then they go and write two star reviews on Amazon haha.
     
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  4. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe it's like with fairy tales. It's somehow rewarding, even if it's coincidental, how things fall in place in the end. Maybe we just like things coming together in a satisfying way, even if it's coincidental. I also give the story leeway if it's funny, clever and/or sympathetic. Sometimes it also works if the author isn't taking him/herself too seriously. Like, look, I'm gonna tell you a wonderful tale, like, it's going to be crazy awesome, and if you aren't on board, clearly you aren't awesome at all, and everyone wants to be awesome instead of nitpicking tighty-pants, so you roll with it. Not sure if that last one made sense, but sometimes you come across stories that are just so cool you feel bad for criticizing them.
     
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  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, coincidences are a part of real life, aren't they? I think we can all think of instances where coincidences have happened to us. Why they happen is always a mystery. Is there the hand of fate at work, or is it just random, etc? However, they do happen, so writers can certainly use them.

    Problems arise when coincidence is used by a writer to make something difficult into something 'easy.' You know ...a big problem is looming, and suddenly the solution just appears. Ta da. Next....

    I read a book recently which was well written and enjoyable, but its author let important people and lost objects get found too quickly. The main character just HAD to meet up with a particular person—and lo and behold, the MC just happened to turn the corner and there that person was, with no real reason for being there. (And no explanation within the story either.) And then the main character just HAD to find a particular object, which could have been anywhere north of Hadrian's Wall, and when he settled down beside a rock out on a moor to have his lunch, a gleam of metal caught his eye.... And then the MC just happened to fall in with a bunch of people who—collectively—had all the skills needed to achieve his story goals. This is fine in stories where people get handpicked for a group because of their complementary skills. But to just have it 'happen?' And no, this was not a story about the Hand of Fate. It was presented as real (within a historical sense.)

    The story was interesting and absorbing to read, because the sense of place and character was so strong. But it would have been MUCH stronger if some or all of these coincidences had been dumped in favour of a more considered plot. As it was, the story was more dismissable than it should have been. The author's research into the period was astounding, and I learned a lot. But it could have been so much better if she had just taken the time to build plausibility into the day-to-day occurrences involving her main character.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2015
  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @jannert That sounds like the type of plotting you'd find in 19th century gothic novels. :D Artefacts turn up in convenient places or people get killed by convenient things at convenient times.
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, it's not a 19th century novel, but it's not far off. I think she wrote this back in the 1940s. Yes, that was something authors got away with then, and not so much these days. Maybe stories felt closer to classic fairy tales and folk stories then. Dunno. But lots of leaps of faith got made, that's for sure.
     
  8. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    A lot of G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories are like this, particularly the first one. Too many strange assumptions, too many bizarre coincidences the people in the story take for granted. It gives the stories a dreamlike quality, as if the author's unleashed brain is saying, "Yes . . . this needs to happen . . . " et voila! on the thought, it does.

    I read them when I'm in the mood, but there are a lot of other detective writers I like far better.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2015
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  9. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's this current obsession with realism. We 21st century consumers are so freakin smart. That could never happen. Yeah? Then go read a god damn text book!
     
  10. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, but even the unrealism of fiction has to adhere to its own logic.
     
  11. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think how much we care depends on the effects of the coincidences. If they help the protagonist, we often feel cheated because it feels like the coincidences are taking away some agency from the protagonist. But if they set the protagonist back, we don't care as much because it's helping to motivate the protagonist to take further action.
     
  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    My parents met under absurd circumstances. This girl asked my mother to help her babysit. My mother didn't want to she hardly knew the girl but caved nearly turning back because there was a blizzard that night and her stepfather almost didn't find the house. When my mother got there the girl started making prank phone calls - one of them was to my father and she said "Susan is in love with you" and hung up. My mother ( Susan ) was furious. She didn't know who my dad was. The next day at school she saw this very tall boy standing by her locker.
    I hear you're in love with me, he said grinning.
    Get lost, my mother said. Four years of dating and they got married.
    There's more 'coincidences' to this story but I'm not sure I want to add them as you might not believe them! :rofl:
    I'm only interested in the writer's world and whether or not he can convince me that it's real. If fire is wet in his world I don't need some stupid, long scientific explanation full of logic and chemical compositions.
    All of which I find belabored baloney.
    I'm more interested in the characters and how they react to things. Both of which can really sink or lift a story.

    The only thing that bugs me in coincidences is not enough foreshadowing or the knife-in-a-boot the writer forgot to set up.
     
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  13. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Incredible coincidences to set up a story or even as the backbone of a story I can accept. But when the coincidence is used to get the hero out of trouble or to solve an unsolvable problem, I stop reading.
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Having just finished Taken and comparing that to The Fifth Wave, it's interesting how poorly all the convenient pieces fit together in Taken, while in The Fifth Wave you have to stop and think about the unrealistic coincidences to notice them.

    In Taken people conveniently find each other, showing up when needed to get out of a situation. And while the alien abductions are seemingly random, when they need the aliens to take someone in hopes of curing them before they die, the characters just happen know the spot it will happen and it does.

    In The Fifth Wave the protagonist has a crush on a certain high school boy that didn't notice her. She tells us this in her diary. Then of all the people who survive (only a small percentage of the whole human race) and end up in a military base that her little brother was taken to, out of the half dozen teens and kids that escape, her crush was one of them.

    The odds are just too small. On the other hand, no romance develops between them. By that time she's in love with a different important character. And like most unconsummated high school crushes, once time passes you wonder why you ever secretly thought you were in love with them.

    Hokeyness averted.
     

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