How much convenience can you stand?

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number473
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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#16 Post by number473 » Mon Jan 11, 2010 6:24 am

Suggested reference: Great Expectations. I think a certain Mr. Dickens might disagree on the amount of coincidence that a story can handle. That said, writing conventions have changed.

I wouldn't really say that I dislike coincidences particularily. They can be a bit ridiculous and funny at times, but I think that it in fact the fact that they were engineered by an author that makes them stand out. Some really crazy coincidences can happen in real life - you would think it's strange and unlikely, but it did happen after all.
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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#17 Post by Jake » Tue Jan 12, 2010 9:41 am

number473 wrote:Suggested reference: Great Expectations. I think a certain Mr. Dickens might disagree on the amount of coincidence that a story can handle.
Dickens was [largely] a pulpish writer, he wrote serials for magazine or newspaper publication, including Great Expectations. The artefact of this is that every chapter had to end on a cliffhanger - much like the modern-day soap opera - or the readership wouldn't be so interested in buying the next issue to read the next part of the serial and Dickens would be out of pocket.

The perpetual cliffhangers mean he had to engineer increasingly-severe problems for his characters to be beset by, and of course he had to get them out of most of these problems in the following chapter/s... and the chance coincidence remains a very easy way to put a character into or remove a character from a predicament. Great Expectations has its good parts, but a lot of it is a case study in how to prolong the tribulations of your protagonist through artificial and often unbelievable means.


Personally, I've never liked the majority of Dickens' writing that I've tried. A Christmas Carol is the one exception I can think of, and it's notable that it isn't written for a serial audience - it was published as a book originally - and it doesn't hinge on annoying levels of serendipity...
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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#18 Post by Voight-Kampff » Tue Jan 12, 2010 9:58 am

AllegroDiRossi wrote:I've seen a bit too many of these 'coincidences' that save the character,
and I usually find myself wanting to beret the author and tell them their real name:
deus ex machina...
Ah. See, that's probably where my increasing disdain stems from. The good old deus ex - particularly in relation to the denouement (that's French for "when we finish off the bad guy"). I find it...difficult to believe when an author writes the protagonists out of an impossible situation thanks to incredible convenience, rather than through a well thought-out plan.

Off hand, the one instance that comes to mind is Primula's branch in Shuffle!
Okay, so she casts a spell on Rin so that he will completely forget everything about her. Yup. Wipes all traces of memory about her from his mind. But yet, at the end, he miraculously remembers her. How? Uh...the power of love? Riiiiiight... :roll:

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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#19 Post by Tsundere Lightning » Thu Jan 14, 2010 11:19 pm

In general, inconvenient or dangerous coincidences are always beleivable, and lucky breaks only so when they are also complications.
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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#20 Post by Jake » Fri Jan 15, 2010 8:14 am

Tsundere Lightning wrote:In general, inconvenient or dangerous coincidences are always beleivable, and lucky breaks only so when they are also complications.
I would disagree, to a point.

I agree that generally speaking, bad luck for your protagonist is going to be more readily acceptable to the audience than good luck. But I would say that pushing it on either count becomes unbelievable. If you have too much bad luck, then your plot quickly becomes farcical (c.f. Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and other such movies), and it's only any good to the audience if it has some other quality that makes it interesting.

(In the case of the aforementioned movie, the run of bad luck is presented as the plot to start with, but really it's just the setting for the bonding/rehabilitation story between the two main characters - which doesn't rely so heavily on luck, from what I remember - and the audience's attention is kept throughout via the use of humour.)
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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#21 Post by JinzouTamashii » Fri Jan 15, 2010 8:53 am

In other words, Tenchi GXP.
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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#22 Post by Pyre Sieg » Tue Jan 26, 2010 1:26 am

I remember seeing this thread as a lurker long before, and it's a good thing too because it combed away a lot of ideas that would've been a pain to write and an even bigger pain to write off in the long run otherwise. I mean if I went through my life and noticed I have a lot of pleasant surprises that happened all at nearly the same time and all with little explanation besides how I am just lucky, I'd be very suspicious of why everything is suddenly all going my way. (Of course, this may sound more like the most extreme case than what it seems).

It also made me remember a bit about coincidences in real life, for that matter. Just about everyone has had a coincidence happen in their lives. Often they happen more than once, although not necessarily for the same topic or problem. :x However, one thing that is forgotten a lot in story telling is that there are just as many bad coincidences as there are good ones. Some lead to convenience, others lead to a whole 'nother can of worms launching up your nose and all over the place.

Although it's not really "forgotten", per say, a lot of the times it feels easier to move the plot along to just air-drop an answer rather than sit down and think "there's got to be something more to this...". Often this comes off as lazy, but sometimes not. In fact, there may be other reasons or even deeper answers. "I love my character that much and want to make it easier for them, maybe toss them a freebie once in a while. I just want to get it over with because I am getting bored of this plot point and just want to get on with it. :roll: I don't have time to bother with this plot point, and since I probably long forgot what happened, I'll just slap together whatever I feel will get the ball rolling faster." These reasons and more will go on and on.

Of course, again, not everyone is the same and it could be for something else entirely, and I admit I could be wrong and I definitely am not saying that every writer who decides to make things easy and convenient for their character on more than one account are doing it for these reasons.

Seeing this topic, however, it also makes me realize the little link between realism and fiction. Sure, we authors have all the almighty powers of our universe at our fingertips and can justify whatever happens in any way we choose, with or without spoken reasons. However, if you take a step backwards, you start to wonder "If I was (insert character name here), how often will things like these happen to me? How likely will all these happen between (insert one event that happened) and (insert the other event that happened)? Even with my super awesome/sucktastic ability of being extremely lucky/a total spazz/ a klutz?" Not to say that it's a bad thing if the character is prone to have a lot of things happen to them, even if those things are mostly good or bad. I personally thought it was all about timing and how well it fits with the flow of the story. :x Because otherwise I will have a hard time believing that the last surviving member of the holy order of lolcats who can save the world of Invizible Spork-ika turned out to be not only Bob's long lost father, but also was conveniently in his party when needed, conveniently holding the Sacred Golden Relic of Cheezburgerz that is the great god Happeh Catz's most favorite relic thingie and just so happens to be just the thing needed to summon Happeh Catz to destroy teh ebil bukkit thieves that just so happens to be what was needed to save the world. that kind of airdropped string of coincidences would call for head-desking.

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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#23 Post by Meems » Mon Feb 08, 2010 8:33 pm

When writing fiction, I find a good rule of thumb is that coincidences may be used to make a character's life more difficult - although even then too many will make people sceptical - but they should never, ever be used to solve a character's problems.

Like all general rules, though, there may well be occasions where it can be broken.

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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#24 Post by number473 » Tue Feb 09, 2010 4:12 am

There is an example where Deus ex Machina was used to resolve everything in quite a recent movie: (Wait, how do I phrase this without giving a spoiler, I think everyone has seen this movie already though)
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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#25 Post by Tsundere Lightning » Tue Feb 09, 2010 5:08 pm

There is a good way of using lucky coincidences in a story, actually; but it's for a specific kind of story.

Magical Realism and other similar genres - where surreal things are happening in an otherwise realistic setting - rely heavily on syncronicity, significant coincidences. That is, the lucky breaks are recognized as both coincidental and personally significant. Synchronicity is obviously just good or bad fortune, but the characters can also read something important into it.

You know, like Tarot cards. They don't tell you the future. They aren't magical. They just tell you what you already, on some level, know about yourself, and help you apply it.
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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#26 Post by Dark » Thu Feb 11, 2010 5:18 pm

In my opinion, it all matters about execution, and how believable the actually event to be.

You wouldn't want your MC to randomly find 100,000 bucks and the codes to save the world from nuclear disaster on the floor would you?
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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#27 Post by Aleema » Wed Mar 17, 2010 11:41 pm

I noticed/got annoyed by coincidental meetings a lot more when I was watching Japanese dramas. Everyone you knew was always close by, and almost always eavesdropping on the one thing you don't want them to know about. It's possible that, in Japan, you run into people more often because of the closeness, and so it's just second nature in storytelling because everyone in the culture has experienced it first hand, and perhaps often. That's just wild speculation, though. :3

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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#28 Post by LVUER » Wed Mar 17, 2010 11:54 pm

I don't know about Japan (and it's cramped space), but indeed that in Eastern culture, we are a lot more closer than we all thought. If not influenced heavily by western culture, we keep a very close relationship even with stranger. We thought almost everyone as a big family (of course, real family is way more important than just a friend). In short, our traditional culture don't really have "you-you, me-me attitude" but more "You, me, and all of us".

So if something happen to a person, we all must know (and care). Like if my neighbor is in deep trouble, I'll be glad to help them. If someone passed in front of me and in trouble, I'll also help him.

So... we all know (must) know anything that happen around us, and to whom it happened. Of course, that means our ladies here loves gossip ^_^
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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#29 Post by Komari » Tue Mar 30, 2010 3:51 pm

Well, life IS full of coincidences. So there's really no pushing it by adding coincidences in a VN. I've played quite a few VNs and I never even considered the coincidences as annoying or too convenient. But then again, I am a freaking coincidence magnet, so I can't identify with the way normal people would feel about that matter. :S

Also, you might want to check this (20 most amazing coincidences). I was shocked when I first read it. :O

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Re: How much convenience can you stand?

#30 Post by squark » Fri May 14, 2010 11:57 am

I can stand a freakish amount of convenience, so I tend to employ as little as possible in the design of things I work at. For instance, in my current project, the big bad guy isn't the be all and end-all of the game, but it could be, depending on how you've played to that point.
There's twists in the works, but I want this demo build I'm working on to be playable before I work on expanding it.
Basically, the only convenience so far in my project is the more or less instantaneous find of your first weapon... but that's okay isn't it? As kids we usually use sticks or stones as first weapons, and they're everywhere.
So, not even the "end" boss of my game will be a convenient end.
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