Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Rogue Writer & Dumb Luck

I've been thinking what to post this time...So I decided to post both ideas at the same time before getting into more interesting character related posts.

The Rogue Writer

I don't know how you guys fare with mixing up your writer life with your day-to-day. Most of you, I guess, get help from family members to carve some time out for writing, reading and (in some cases) critiquing.
I'm not like that. My day-to-day life is filled with stuff I must do, and there's no one there who takes my writing seriously. It is a fun little hobby I have which must not interfere with the importance of school or other things.
Being non-native English and writing in English, my family does not read my work - my parents don't know enough English to read a book in the language, my bros don't read (anything) and my boyfriend only read my first draft of the first novel. But he's not very keen on reading either.
So, I write whenever I can. Whenever I get a moment in which I don't have to keep someone company or spend time with my b/f. This resulted in my doing a lot of mind-plotting and putting it on paper whenever I can.
I don't get compliments because I write. No one tells me I'm creative and pats my back. My writing career is like a second job I'm doing behind everyone's back.
But, honestly, I'm not sure I mind. The more impressive when I will make it and get published and be filthy rich.
So, every time I write a page, edit something or crit someone, I'm an assassin on a mission, creeping through windows and planting my thoughts with you (kinda like inception).

Dumb Luck 

In my earlier draft of my YA novel, Ruby, I had my characters find some information with sheer dumb luck. I thought it was a laugh. But apparently, it's a big fiction no-no.

Example (excerpt from Ruby v 1.0):
“How about trying our dumb luck?” Kyle asked, taking a big book and opening it at random. “I never actually made a plan either but it shouldn’t be too hard.” He smiled and started reading out loud: “The legend of the Twin Sun-temples of Yucatan. There we go. Do I have dumb luck or what? I guess it comes with being dumb.”  
 Critter comment 1: For an adventure story, this was too easy. Consider having Sam and Kyle seek out this information in a more active way.
 Critter comment 2: Heroes shouldn't solve problems through luck.

Okay, I get where they're going. And I've changed this part (because I've restructured the entire chapter - and fixed all the nasty errors in this one example sentence). But, I can't help but think... don't we all get dumb luck sometimes? In real life.
My personal example: Had an exam yesterday - nasty interview with a crazy teacher (I mean crazy, he failed 18 people in a row for no real reason at all). I spent 10 hours outside the examination room to wait for my turn. My head was bursting, my stomach ached as I'd hardly eaten anything that day, and I was just about to barf because of the nerves. All I'd studied was a giant mess in my head and I couldn't even speak properly.
So, at about 9 p.m., I entered the examination room, picked a subject and sat down to write it -> it was the worst possible subject. I could only remember one line for each question and the fact that I'd prayed outside that I wouldn't get this subject.
The girl before me failed. I started talking and immediately messed up, but managed to draw the teacher into another subject matter. Then I read my 2 sentences for the second subject and he says: Is 9 an acceptable grade for you? (as in 9 out of 10). I couldn't believe it. I mean, if that's not dumb luck, what is?

So, yes, it happens in real life - people do get dumb luck once in a while. I believe it has something to do with Karma.
And in my characters' case, they did have the book there - maybe they would have searched for that particular page a bit more, or maybe they would have gotten the book later, or maybe some other team-member would've found that information - Seeing how unlucky they get throughout the book, I wanted to give them this small victory. Not that it makes any difference since I've changed this up.
It got me wondering though - what is the border between realism and author laziness when it comes to dumb luck? I want to give my characters a break once in a while. Does that kill the tension or destroy the conflict?
To me, a twist is something that I didn't expect. And, seriously, who expects dumb luck in fiction?
I do agree that if it happens to often and too conveniently, we have a problem. And after this one time, I don't think I've ever given my characters explicit luck ever again, in anything I've ever written.
I guess I'm growing up. Or finally learning how to write properly.

Sorry about the cooky post. But my head is still a mess after my fabulous exam. I'll be back to normal in a few days and talk about more joyous things.
*goes off to eat a ton of chocolate*


  1. First of all--woohoo on a successful exam! After that long waiting too. Wow! Eat lots of chocolate for me :)

    I know what you mean about not having time. I did the college thing and worked full time, and that was tough. Now I'm a full time mom of three, and it's even tougher. I steal my writing moments, usually when kids are asleep, but something always has to be sacrificed.

    My hubby is supportive, but he isn't a reader, so I rarely have him read my stuff, maybe just small scenes. My in-laws could care less and I suspect they think I'm just wasting my time.

    But you gotta keep going if it's something you really love. I say, "Hey, if I'm enjoying myself, even if no one else understands, then it's worth it."

    For the dumb luck thing, I think a time or two in a story could work, and if you make it happen in a humorous or ironic way, even better. What if he'd been talking about that book and it fell off the shelf and hit him in the head? :)

  2. I have the utmost respect for you for stealing those moments to write. Being a law student is a time-consuming study. The fact you can even find time to write shows you are creative and we writer's can't help ourselves. I'm lucky enough to be at a stage in my life where I can give my writing more time. Perservere and your hard work will pay off.

    You aren't the first writer who has people around them who think you're wasting your time. Ignore them and keep on keeping on writing.

    As for the dumb luck thing. I believe in luck, it doesn't have to be dumb LOL. If written well it can work.

  3. Thanks for the encouragement guys! After years of doing this, I've gotten the hang of it - I managed to get through NaNoWriMo by writing before going to school (as in before 7 a.m.)
    And, come to think of it, all great writers were shunned at some point ;) It's kinda fun being renegade.

    @Mysti: Lol, love your example! I'll have to use it at some point.
    @June: Oh, yes, luck is there. I'm a lucky person myself. And when it's dumb, it's just funnier :)

  4. First off, I know what you mean about writing being something on the side that has to be fitted in around everything else. My family & kids come first, with all that entails, and my wife is not interested in reading sci-fi. Non-writers in general don't realise just how hard it is to get published, and have trouble regarding you as a serious writer unless you are published. Oh well!

    As for dumb luck, I think it plays a part in stories all the time. In how many car chases does the hero run a red light unscathed, leaving wreckage in his wake? Try doing that for real at a busy intersection...on second thoughts, please don't! But seriously, look at all the action sequences in movies and you'll see the planets align miraculously all the time to offer the good guys a one-in-a-million way out.

    OK, that's movies, not writing, and you have to be cleverer to get it across on the page, but the point is that they get away with it all the time because it is set up to look natural.

    If the answer just drops out of the blue, then, as a reader, I feel cheated. This is where stories inevitably differ from real life. Stories are there to entertain, so anything that detracts from that is a bad thing. That (I think) includes dumb luck right at the critical moment.

    But, if you set thing up ahead of time, then your dumb luck, when it becomes important, will seem natural. In the case of important information, what if your characters had seen the information earlier on before it was important? And before they understood its significance? That is still dumb luck, but if done right it doesn't feel forced. If it's dropped in in passing, seemingly irrelevant, then both they and the readers have time to forget about it. By the time the characters finally tease out this recollection that's been nagging them for the past few scenes (just in the nick of time, of course) it will seem like the coming-together of events many chapters ago and will actually be a satisfying resolution rather than a bolt from the blue. But still lucky!

    Wow! That was a bit lengthy. Hope some of it made sense!

  5. It made perfect sense.Even if it is longer :) Yes, you're totally right about movies. And we movie goers take it because we expect no better. But, indeed, readers expect more. And your example of unobtrusive dumb luck is great. Because it turns into giving hints. And everyone can go Eureka! in the end.
    Lol, apparently there are more rogue writers out there than I thought. :)
    Great comment!

  6. I love how I could relate to you, writing in English even though you're not english speaking born (that was a weird way to get it out. Sorry).
    I am tri-lingual, my family knows I write but it's just a hobby in their eyes (ok with that), my husband read something I wrote ONCE and never ever did it again. *sobs*
    So I'm enjoying myself doing what I do and working a full time job. I just write whenever I can and try hard to stay on some sort of schedule.

    You've been doing this longer than I (according to your cc profile) so I reckon I'm going to have a lot to learn from you. :)

  7. Woot! We should form a club, us non-English writers. It's tough to get over the language barrier. And the fact that friends and family might not understand what we're on about...another obstacle for us.

  8. The thing with using luck to solve your characters' problems is that they then haven't earned the good that comes from the solution. Joseph Campbell said that mythology was important because it taught people how to live. That's what stories do; they teach people how to cope with life. Dumb luck my exist in real life, but it's nothing one should count on. And if you're looking at publication, the editor is more likely to pick a carefully crafted story over one where dumb luck solves the story problems.

  9. Hi Steph!

    I agree with Botanist on the luck issue. Set up a few irrelevant (at the time) items in advance, and then have the characters work out how to take advantage of those items in a lucky sort of way. Maybe have one of them trip over a book left lying out, or stumble onto a book cart, spilling it over. Mention two or three of the titles as he places them back. Then, when he needs the info, he "remembers" seeing that book, and off you go.

    As for writing time, I struggled back and forth with trying to squeeze it in here or there, bringing the laptop to bed and writing some nights, or having the kids get cranky when I disappear. I finally just set up a time slot. 8:00pm - 10:00pm is "writing time". I promise not to be distracted by it any other time, and they promise to let me have that time alone to work. Of course, if nobody else is around, I still sneak in some extra...

  10. Hi!
    Yes, you're completely right. And I've learned how to work with subtly setting up clues. I'm actually starting to enjoy it. Being a writer is fun!
    As for writing time - ah, any second is good. Though I haven't written anything since...I can't remember - it must be over a month. But I'm still editing, so I guess that's good.
    Thanks for the input!


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