Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Luck in Literature

When I was in first grade, I was in a cake walk. This event meant a group of us paid for a ticket, then walked in a circle around a bunch of numbers as music played. When the music stopped, we all stopped on the number we were walking by. Then there was a random drawing and the person standing on the number drawn won a cake. I did the cake walk twice, both times landing on the number 26, and both times winning. 26 became my lucky number.

As writers, we're told there's no such thing as luck in a good story. Everything has to have a purpose and every detail has to mean something. A chance meeting may happen, but that's about it. A gambler can have a winning streak, but it has to further the story somehow.

What is luck, anyway? Most people believe in it in some form, having things like lucky number 26. I loved the use of the lucky potion in Half-Blood Prince. In that book, luck gave Harry what he wanted. Is that what good luck does? Things like lucky numbers make us feel special, like there's something else out there other than just randomness and chaos. But luck isn't convincing in books and stories.

Why is that? Unless the story is specifically about luck, a character doesn't succeed by chance alone and make the reader believe it. There has to be a mastermind plot behind every action and reaction, each event carefully placed.


Cherie Reich said...

It is strange that luck isn't convincing in books and stories when so much of real life seems to revolve around luck. In ancient Rome, they called her the goddess Fortuna, and she held good and bad luck over everyone. Baseball players often have lucky things they do when they are on a winning streak. I even created my own goddess called Fortuna Luciarum, or Goddess of the Lights. I always call on her to have some luck with traffic lights when I'm in a hurry.

So it makes me wonder if there is a lot of luck in real life...or perhaps we are more like a book with the mastermind behind the plot? Hmm....

Great post!

Janet Johnson said...

I think it doesn't work in general because what is the point of reading about someone who gets everything they want out of luck? Where is the growth involved? But it is definitely an interesting topic.

Great post. and P.S. my lucky number is 22.

WishfullChild said...

What makes a good story is by having the main character make their own luck. By which i mean, if everyone has something personal to them like a bracelet or a number then that is their own personal belief that they are lucky. A story based on luck takes away the relaty of the story. Fantasy, horror, whatever, every character is an individual. As janet said, there should be a growth for the character. My lucky number is 13 because of experiences i have had with that number, it doesnt make it any more luckier to me than someone else, i just find that believing that it brings me luck is like confidence and it makes me happier. Stories are the same, as long as they do not become fixated on luck. Knowing me this comment has nothing to do with the topic. But i just felt your post was worth reading :) so thankyou for finally giving me something to agree too.

ali said...

I think luck exists, but it's so rare and oftentimes we don't even recognize it when it does show up. I think readers don't really love luck for precisely that reason. We know we can't count on luck to get us through in life.

But when we see a character use gumption or self-control or whatever virtue to get what they want, well THAT'S something we can hang our hat on.

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