We’ve all read the scene or even watched it in a film:
Character A is hiding a secret from character B. Character B stops by Character A’s house while he’s out and in the two minutes and ten seconds that Character B is there, the phone rings and someone leaves a telling message on Character A’s answering machine REVEALING THE PRECIOUS SECRET!!!
Well, isn’t that convenient!? He just happened to be in the house for that phone call. What good luck! (Or bad, for poor Character A, I suppose.)
Now I do accept that this device (and others like it) could be considered treasures in some plots, tried-and-true techniques that we have come to expect in certain stories and certain story arcs, and I will admit I’ve used them myself.
Exhibit A: When I was working on very early draft of LITTLE GALE GUMBO, I built a pivotal plot reveal around a run-in with a nefarious neighbor who was looking to blow off jealous steam by spilling the beans about our heroine’s great big secret.
In the words of the scum-eating shrimp from Finding Nemo: I am so ashamed.
Ah, but in my defense, it was so simple. So perfect! And it always seemed to work on The Love Boat when anyone would innocently sidle up to Isaac’s bar at the Pirate’s Cove and happen to sit next to the guy who’d just been on the Lido deck with someone else’s fiancée!
Maybe. But the problem is that too often, most often, it just isn’t that easy and readers know that. Sure, plots can’t duplicate the speed (or lack thereof) or timing (ditto) of real life or we wouldn’t get past the first chapter. Just as dialog shouldn’t be written exactly as we speak in real life, plotting requires a certain amount of tweaking to keep it engaging. But there is an ocean between tweaking and Oh-give-me-a-break!
After years of unbelievable plotting, my measure now for building to a reveal, for moving a plot forward, has to pass the “Isn’t that convenient?” test. If I can’t read something without thinking that, then I need to revise. I need to come up with a better solution or scrap that plot point entirely. The strongest plots must hinge on a believable progression of events/exchange of information. A convenient burst of information can blow a hole through an otherwise solid and engaging plot, and leave your reader feeling cheated, thinking you couldn’t be bothered to build a solution that was believable but rather latched on to a what-are-the-odds? scenario that frankly only worked for Isaac, Gopher and Doc.
So what are your feeling on the convenience-factor of plotting? Are you more lenient as a reader, and/or a writer?