Monday, March 17, 2014

Chutes and Ladders: Part Two

In my last post, I discussed the role of chance in our everyday lives.  Today, I look at the role of chance in writing.

Today is St. Patrick's day.  I remember as a kid, looking through our yard for a four-leaf clover.  I never found it.  When I was in kindergarten, my mother pointed to a rainbow in the sky, and told my brother and I that we'd go look for the pot of the gold at it's end.  We jumped in the car, full of excitement, but never seemed to catch the end of that magical arc of colors.  How many people look for a little token of control- something to change the roll of fate's dice in their lives, and reduce the amount of chance?
However, whether you believe entirely in chance or not, there's one arena where chance needs to be both absent and always-present: fiction. Perhaps the only place where there is no chance, no fate, and no luck at all is within the world of fiction.  Getting published, or making lots of sales- that's a different matter.  I'm referring to the world of the novel itself.    
Like most authors, I started my novel with an abstract idea.  This led to a rough outline, then a first, second, and third draft...  eventually to line edits, content edits, and currently a galley review.  There isn't a word in my novel that's in there by chance.  There's not a single thought that hasn't been evaluated and studied, not just by me, but by my early readers, my editors, and my publisher.  This novel, and indeed all novels, is meticulously planned out.  However, it still needs to give the illusion of chance.  I need my readers to believe that some of the events happening to the characters are random.  If you want a storm to blow over your setting, for example, that storm needs to appear from nowhere.  Or perhaps a character dies randomly- it happens in both real life and fiction, the difference is that fiction only appears random.

One of the clearest examples occurred in a TV program I enjoy: Downton Abbey.  In the finale of Season 3, the authors of this popular drama set up an idyllic vision.  Matthew and Mary were finally united, after overcoming every obstacle imaginable.  Then, in the final minutes of the episode, Matthew suddenly died in a car crash.  Everything was perfect, and one heartbeat later, everything's misery. This takes careful planning to pull off successfully, yet if done properly it shows chance in a world where nothing happens by chance.

The method employed by Donwton works well in fiction as well.  Engage the audience's attention thoroughly in the opposite direction you intend to take them.  Then throw your curveball.  If you truly want an event to seem random, avoid foreshadowing it, or keep foreshadowing to a minimum.  You, the author, know what's around the corner, but you want the reader staring staring straight down the road.  That way, when your plot twist comes leaping out, the reader is blindsided and thinks its purely chance.  Keep in mind, however, that not every event is chance, even in your novel.  Just like in reality, if there's an internal choice, it still should follow the character's rationale.

That's my thoughts on chance.  I also have some major news for my novel.  The cover is out, and I have a release date of May 2nd.

In preparation for this release, I have written a short story set two years before the novel.  SHADOW OF THE SCYTHE- the story of a French boy brought to the World of Deaths.  Download a FREE copy of Shadow of the Scythe at my website:

On a final note, if you enjoy chance- you now have an exciting chance to win a FREE copy of my upcoming novel School of Deaths (the full novel).  This sweepstakes runs through April 1st.  

1 comment:

  1. Excited to see your cover!
    I'm ingraining these words of wisdom: "Engage the audience's attention thoroughly in the opposite direction you intend to take them."
    Looking forward to release day.