I am so happy to have Dan Levinson as a guest on my blog today. Dan is a native New Yorker, and a reader of all things fantastical. His debut novel, the sci-fi war epic FIRES OF MAN, is due out June 17, 2014 from Jolly Fish Press.
Today is his cover reveal and I am very impressed. Check it out and then read on for a great post.
Fate in Writing by Dan Levinson
Have you ever read a novel, and thought, “My, this is certainly convenient”? Somehow, the protagonist has come across that key piece of evidence he needs to put the villain away for good; or he’s met his true love on a street corner, after searching for her the entire book. Miraculously, all the pieces have come together.
Fate, destiny, serendipity . . . A familiar set of words for what some might consider an alluring type of deus ex machina, just sitting in our writer’s toolbox, tempting us to be used. One might say they represent an arbitrary coming together of elements, where the writer’s hand can be seen behind the pages, neatly arranging, moving things into their proper places; even dismiss such a thing as trickery, or laziness, or a lack of inventiveness.
But is that really the case?
While it’s true that a coincidence unearned has a certain sense of cheapness, of potential conflicts unfulfilled, this is not the only way to utilize such concepts.
So how to earn it?
First and foremost—foreshadowing. That, above all else, can sell a quirk of fate to a reader. For when there is legitimate foreshadowing—moments that reader can go back to and say, ‘aha, it was all leading to this, even though I didn’t see it’—then the final denouement is no longer arbitrary. It makes sense. It feels organic, like it belongs in the narrative. Proper use of foreshadowing shows that the hand of fate has been present all along, silently pulling the strings.
So what are some good foreshadowing techniques?
Imagery is one. A recurring image, or set of images, especially when described vividly, can lend an almost mystical quality to whatever you’re trying to highlight.
These images can be external—something in the character’s environment that has an opportunity to return. Or they can be internal—a metaphor, used to describe the character’s inner state, or reaction to circumstances that echo the eventual “serendipitous twist.” However you choose to do it, the imagery should be evocative; it should stick in the reader’s mind; it becomes a motif.
Another great device is the verbal warning. This can be as simple as subtle references to the eventual outcome, scattered throughout conversations with the character in question. Or it can be used more overtly: supporting characters—perhaps even random passersby—offer advice or admonitions, pointing toward or away from a certain course of action. Of course, the main character should probably defy this advice at every turn, or at least not fulfill it completely. It is only at the end, when the character finally listens (ideally breaking out of some negative pattern of behavior), that the puzzle pieces “miraculously” fit together. In this way, it feels like the character is earning his or her just reward.
Now, “fate” can not only be used to unite, to expedite, but also to do the opposite: to tear apart, to create conflict, to evoke tragedy. This may be the best use of it, I think! Consider Romeo and Juliet, those “star-crossed lovers.” It was as if fate conspired at every turn to drive them apart, make them agonize. Their deaths result from the most tragic of misunderstandings!
Tragic coincidence—I feel that is one of the most effective techniques a writer can utilize. And when something bad happens—something that makes a character suffer—I believe readers are less inclined to balk at the unlikely chance of such occurrences. Life is by necessity chaotic, and so when a character’s “destiny” seems to create a downward spiral, it feels easier to accept. When, by some freak happenstance, one bad thing piles atop another, no matter how implausible, it seems somehow more “real” than were it to be good thing upon good.
When used properly, “fate” can be a very effective tool. It can create a sense of depth, of powerful inner workings the reader isn’t privy to. It’s a risk, to be sure! But with forethought, and careful execution, even the most unlikely and opportune of resolutions can feel not only possible, but appropriate! So earn your twists of fate! And write, write, write on!