mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)
mabfan

Robert's Rules of Writing #50: Don't Push Your Luck

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Wow. We've made it virtually halfway through the book. I want to take this moment to thank those of you who have chosen to accompany me on my journey so far, and I hope you'll stick around for the second half. When I started these mini-essays commenting on Masello's rules, a lot of people seemed interested. I hope people have continued to enjoy these posts, and if you have constructive suggestions, by all means please let me know in the comments.

Masello's rule #50 is one I've run across before in other writing guides. Boiled down to one sentence, it is as follows:

Coincidence can start a story or make things worse for your protagonist, but it should never be used to make things better.

To be honest, there isn't much I could say to improve on Masello's own essay about this rule, and rather than quote him extensively I urge everyone to go out and buy the book (if you haven't done so already). Basically, readers will accept a coincidence to kick off the story, especially if the characters make it clear as well how bizarre they find it. They'll also accept anything that works against your character. But using coincidence to make things better smacks of cheating. Readers prefer it when a protagonist solves his or her problems through skill or ingenuity rather than through coincidence.

I briefly considered citing examples of coincidence from my own fiction, but at the moment I'm having trouble thinking of any. (Although I'm sure that they exist.) So instead, I'll end this post by opening it up to comments on the question of coincidence. Have you ever read a story where coincidence threw you right out of the fictional world? Or have you ever read a story where a piece of coincidence worked extremely well for you? Feel free to share.

Copyright © Michael Burstein
Tags: roberts-rules, writing-advice
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