Monday, August 04, 2008

Sync or Swim


Me as an bewildered infant.


It must be the Libra Effect.

Though a day ahead of me, guess who also put up pictures from the past on their blog.

The number of synchronicities between me and Charles and Lana Gramlich have become so numerous as to be almost predictable. Makes me glad we write different forms of fantasy.

Seems our industry is susceptible to strange coincidences. Agents often report receiving a dozen queries with the same plot twists all in one week. If one considers that authors produce MSS at vastly different speeds, that arrival time-frame strikes one as peculiar.

Of course, coincidence is a reliable literary device -- acceptable without much suspension of disbelief -- because we've all experienced strange coincidences. In fact, we often enjoy the mystery of them in real life. Many fictional plots might not be possible with them.

But if one could de-construct the main factors involved, probably many so-called coincidences might not seem so remarkable.

I was puzzled when someone nailed me for what they considered an over-the-top coincidence in the current MS. Seems the fact that a character happened to have a relationship connection with a particular property -- that it was built by his grandfather's cousin -- struck the reader as just too neat and tidy.

I was confounded by the charge, until I realized that my reader might not have had much experience in living in a small town, especially an old established town. A good half the stable population is often related. The same is true of any rural area settled for a century or so. So what we have is natural, logical, and inevitable connection, not coincidence.

In spite of what Nero Wolf said about a world primarily composed of cause and effect, not all coincidences are suspect.

44 comments:

Ric said...

When I was growing up in my small town, it was common to be related to everyone - some rather shirttail, but no where near the six degrees of separation (more like one or two).

I hate it when the plot turns on what appears to be a convenient coincidence. There is no way for the reader to predict such a thing and it's annoying. Agatha Christie was famous for doing it. In mysteries, it's just not fair throwing in something no one could know about.

The hidden letters, the book with handwritten notations, the third cousin thrice removed who just happens to appear, ...

The trick is to make the coincidence believable. Your comment about small towns is spot on. It isn't a coincidence to us; it's a part of everyday life. A little more backstory is likely needed to bring the new generation of editors and readers more of a feel for what rural life is about.

Jaye Wells said...

I prefer the term "synchronicity."

Bernita said...

"some rather shirttail"
Ric, that is so true! Anyplace of 10,000 people or under, everyone knows everyone's business - and their histories back generations.
And that's good advice about a bit of necessary backstory.

I think either works, Jaye.

writtenwyrdd said...

I hope that confused person wasn't me, Bernita!

As far as convenient coincidence goes, I think it depends on just how convenient it is. If a lovely coincidence solves the main plot problem, it doesn't work for me because the writer has gotten lazy. But a coincidence that leads teh protag further down the trail to the solution works. I think too many coincidences also harms the story, despite what is true to life. Because you can indeed have many bizarre coincidences in life.

Isn't is amusing how what we write, whether plot elements or dialog, cannot precisely mimic life? We have to write dialog that 'sounds' realistic but which isn't, and realistic dialog is boring and difficult to follow. And likewise with coincidence.

When I moved to a town of 5,000, I was truly amazed that people knew who I was that I'd never met, or that they knew where I lived and what I did for work--even that I was divorced and other personal information!

writtenwyrdd said...

PS bernita, this topic made me think that one might be able to write a (probably comedic) detective series called "The Lucky Detective," where the protag is actually an idiot with incredible luck for solving cases. Sort of like Clouseau (sp). But a paranormal take on it.

Robyn said...

Written, I defy you to keep any personal info secret in a small town that has a hardware/feed store with the Old Man Coffee Club sitting in the corner. Forget women gossiping- those elderly gentlemen have The Scoop.

As for coincidence, a stroke of sheer blind luck wouldn't necessarily put me off- especially if it were remarked upon and given the appropriate grateful prayer.

moonrat said...

i love the picture!

fiction is about coincidence, anyway. i'm willing to take a little of it no matter how big the town is.

raine said...

That's not much of a coincidence for a small town, lol. But then, the reader might consider it tedious if the author went into detail about ALL the specifics of little town life.
A coincidence or two I can take. It's the deus ex machina that drives me up a wall...

Bernita. Cute as a button. ;)

Bernita said...

Keeping Ric's advice in mind, it's seldom the reader's fault, Written!

In writing "reality" we have to leave out the boring bit.

Hmmm, use far-out coincidences as the main mechanic so the reader is entranced to see just what impossibility will put the MC on the right track each time?
It would have to be comedy, but the right writer could certainly pull it off.

Robyn, in our town, it's mostly the local grocery store which seems the nexus of intelligence-sharing (for that's really what it is -- not really gossip, per se) but I'm sure one of the harware stores,a couple of local restaurants as well as the bench in front of the bank form part of the network; and I've heard of information exchange by the benches in the park down by the boat slips.
Quite a fascinating network.

writtenwyrdd said...

Robyn, in my little town, it is a gas station where the old guys (and the construction guys) go to get really awful coffee and hang out on the porch. All they need is the cracker barrel and a card game. But these guys know the scoop, indeed they do!

Dave F. said...

Coincidences are dangerous things.

There is a very strange concept in Quantum Physics about how searching for the past can make anything come true even when it is false. All things are probable in quantum mechanics.

I'll try to do the concept justice:
Suppose we postulate that giraffes existed in the Jurassic era. Then we start looking for the evidence. SO for many years, no one finds evidence of giraffes in that era. Then one day, an archeologist finds some obscure bones that might be. So the scientific world begins to bear down and search with lots and lots of effort.

Now this might actually prove that giraffes existed in the Jurrasic. That should be false but in searching for the past, we have proven our postulate. We have now established various pieces of evidence proving our version of reality. Giraffes indeed did exist back then.

What is wrong there? Why have we proven a past that we know is virtually impossible? Is there an alternate reality where Giraffes did exist in the Jurassic? Have we tapped into that type of construct?

No, sorry. The error is that we focused on proving a point, not on disproving it. Imagine events in the past as a multitude of strings. What we did was to search for a particular string linking the result we wanted and that we ignored the strings that proved we were wrong.

Coincidences are that way. They link the past that we want to believe with our minds. Then we ignore the facts that disprove the randomness of reality.

This is why slot machines never have "runs" or "are due to hit" or why blackjack and pokers lose fortunes when they have a "streak" or why those complex "locked room" mysteries with the fantastic plots and odd coincidences are not true.
We are looking at what we want to believe and ignoring what disproves that belief. That is how murder mysteries work. The clues are strings to the past. That is how magic tricks work. We don't look for the gimmick.

Welcome to the fun world of Quantum Physics and the uncertainty principle.

Of course, If I get my hands on the dice at a craps table or play blackjack, I get hot and you don't. ;)

Dave F. said...

And I should have added:
That is why gossip proves to be wrong. Gossip is the selective belief in what proves, and not the impartial belief in what disproves. Gossip betrays a bias.

Bernita said...

Thank you, MoonDear.
"fiction is about coincidence, anyway"
That's really true - in many ways.

Right, Raine,never occurred to me it could be seen as a "coincidence" of the artificial kind.

Thank you. My habit of waving my hands about obviously started early!

Bernita said...

Dave, I see coincidence as the name we give to a fact or set of facts which we believe - lacking sufficient contextual data - are more unusual than they are.
Gossip isn't always wrong, btw, though the interrpretation and extrapolation often are exaggerated.

Charles Gramlich said...

The rate of synchronicities that I've experienced have gone way up since I've been with Lana. But like you say, in many cases I can identify why something is likely to have happened and it isn't a coincidence at all. Still, sometimes, it's passing weird.

Great picture of little Bernita.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Charles. Am still examining the world in the same puzzled way too.

Travis Erwin said...

Two peas in a pod. A pod full of talented writers I might add. And I don't even like peas normally.

laughingwolf said...

i grew up in small town ontario... welland, fonthill... and frequented other small towns, pt.colborne, ridgeville, ft.erie, chippawa, etc... all had many folk related to one another

like lana, charles, and me, you're libran, too?

06 rocktober, me ;)

SzélsőFa said...

A very cute baby on the photo, indeed :)
In the Hungarian, the word coincidence véletlen refers to something we wouldn't have expected with an indication that it is something we did not know the reason.

Ello said...

I'm so glad you mention this because I was accused of the very same thing and it really puzzled me too. Life is full of coincidences that make you go hmmmmmmmm. Why is it so improbably when it is written in a work of fiction?

SzélsőFa said...

Oh, and another witty title.
I'd rather 'float', though.

Bernita said...

Travis ????

Yup, Laughingwolf, I'm a scale swinger too.
Meant to ask: how badly are you banged up? Am sending sympathy.

Thank you, Szelsofa. That is an excellent word and I'm making note of it.

Lana Gramlich said...

Awwwwwwwwwww! I love the picture...What a little sweetheart!
Welcome to synchronicity-land. Mwa ha HA! ;)

Bernita said...

It's a conundrum, Ello, especially when they are so common!

Thank you, Szelsofa. (I never learned how.)

Bernita said...

Lana, thank you!
~giggling~
Makes life more interesting, I think!

laughingwolf said...

mostly superficial cuts/bruises, chest/back hurt most... thx for the kind sympathy....

Bernita said...

Ow,ow OOWW, Lw.
Mostly? Hope no ribs cracked/broknen.

Steve Malley said...

My #1 rule of coincidence: it can get your characters *into* trouble, but it can't get them out.

Mary Witzl said...

What you write about small towns is so true. Just strolling down main street, I can meet my doctor, the lady from the sawmill whose kids go to school with mine, my gynecologist and her driving-instructor husband, the man who fixes our boiler and his wife (also a church elder), and the shepherd in charge of the fields behind our house -- and so on ad nauseam. You cannot explain this to someone who has spent her life in New York.

ChrisEldin said...

Photo is TOOOOOO cute!! Looks like you're directing traffic. Or plot lines. That's it.
;-)

Does Lana have pics up too? I'm running over now...

Bernita said...

I agree, Steve.And that's a good point to make.

Mary, that's so normal!
Not quite the same social network in bigger places.

Chris, thank you.Charles's kid pictures at the moment.

laughingwolf said...

dozen xrays show nothing broken/cracked, but still hurts, esp chest/left shoulder and scraped left arm

trouble lying down to sleep, then getting under covers when i finally do lie down... sim prob getting out of bed...

hope your knee's healing properly?

spyscribbler said...

Sometimes we don't recognize the things that are uncommon to the rest of the world but common to us. I remember someone told me so proudly that they got Ohio's vernacular correct, and I was like, "I didn't notice a thing."

Bernita said...

A LOT of soft tissue damage then. This is where a lazy boy/recliner comes in particularly handy -- and lots of Tylenol.

T'was my foot. It progresses, slowly.

Bernita said...

"Sometimes we don't recognize the things that are uncommon to the rest of the world but common to us."

That's the struggle, Natasha, to be outside and inside at the same time.

haunted author said...

Hi- I'm a Libra Too- What a coincidence.....

I moved into a small town where I am absolutly positively (as far as I know) NOT related to anyone. It still amazes me how related these people are to each other- and how they can recite family trees on the spot. If a person were born into one of these rural towns it would be difficult NOT to buy property from someone he/she was related to.

I wouldn't have a problem with the your example. I am not fond of "coincidences" in fiction- but I love when an author introduces a charector/situation in first couple of chapters, and then we forget about that and then it comes back around later in the book.


I'm probably going to be mulling over Dave F.'s post about Jurasic Giraffes for a good portion of the day!

Demon Hunter said...

Coincidence is expected, right? Wow. Sometimes people think alike---it happens. :-)

Bernita said...

I seem drawn to other Librans.
Haunted, when we bought our present house, the next-door neighbour recited all previous owners back to about 1920!

If we could trace them back, my Demon, a lot of coincidences would show as perfectly logical continuations.

The Anti-Wife said...

Love the picture.
Another Libra!

Bernita said...

Thank you, AW.
We is Legion!

BernardL said...

After all the weird coincidences I've seen, very little in literature is over the top. Neat picture. :)

Barbara Martin said...

I agree with Jaye Wells on the term "synchronicity" with respect to posting childhood photos. When this happens, Bernita, you are to talk to the other people who have posted their childhood photos to have an "ah-ha" moment of enlightenment on some topic or another.

The editors and readers who question convenient coincidence have not had enough of the same thing happen to them, so they question it when a writer uses it perhaps not intentionally.

Situations do occur in threes or fours or fives.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

I have more than once had an editor tell me something was impossible or unrealistic when it was based on fact. There is nothing stranger than the truth.

Bernita said...

Bernard, a typical picture. I've only seen one ugly baby in my life.

My semantical compression, Barbara.
It does seem from comments like Suzanne's that editorial objections sometimes come from people who are unfamiliar with - if not oblivious to - certain patterns.

Suzanne, I've taken to printing out my "proof" from news stories, etc. with that very problem in mind.