Monday, November 24, 2008

Certain Things Must Happen

The plan isn’t foolproof. For it to work,
certain things must happen.

So begins Jack Handey’s bank heist piece in the Shouts and Murmurs column of this week’s New Yorker magazine.

He lists a series of highly unlikely (yet clever and hilarious!) coincidental events that must occur for a certain robbery to succeed. Improbable as the events are, a writer might be able to weave one or two of them into a story -- taking care to make them motivated and believable -- and end up with a rollicking good tale (for example, Ocean’s Eleven).

But if a writer substitutes “plot” for Handey’s opening reference to “plan,” the list becomes an effective refresher on the problems of deus ex machina and coincidence in fiction.


  1. Have you ever noticed that story readers will accept bad luck happening to a character but will roll their eyes in disbelief if good luck happens?

    What does that tell us about people's model of how the world works?

  2. aha, very interesting.

    Reminds me of a CBS sitcom, Worst Week. I've only seen one episode, but the premise seemed to be one bad-luck thing after another, to the point of comic absurdity. I think I will watch again, if only to study it for how to make things go worse and worse for a character (I always have trouble with that).