Saturday, November 14

Posted by Laurel Garver on Saturday, November 14, 2009 3 comments
Sometime this morning, after I'd squeezed in a shower and a couple loads of wash, we realized the water heater had sprung a huge leak. While my hubby shop-vacc'ed up 40 gallons of water and I called the plumber, I got thinking how so many of these home catastrophes strike without any warning whatsoever. Is there an extent to which it's okay to toss this sort of random breakdown disaster into a story without any foreshadowing? Is it realistic, lending verisimilitude, or artistically lazy, a deus ex machina sort of cheap trick?
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  1. I'd say it depends on why you introduce it. Stephen King was stalled for ages on The Stand, before he decided to just stick a bomb in a closet somewhere. That got him sprung from the block and through the last 600 pages or so.

    But I don't think we always need to foreshadow disaster. I had no idea the sharks were going to arrive in The Old Man and the Sea until the first one did. Same with the Balrog in LOTR. Bad things just happen sometimes.

  2. I kept thinking about this all day! We had a flood last year in our townhome, and it just came out of nowhere. These things happen. I don't see anything wrong with it as long as it believable and moves the story forward, and you don't do it too often.

  3. Simon, good point, the "why." Random disasters in fiction are, by nature, not *actually* random, though sometimes you hit places, like King did, where some destabilizing act seems utterly necessary for the plot.

    I think Lady G hit on the "how" question: believability is key. Had the Balrog appeared in my basement instead of 40 gals. of water, that would be a story-wrecker in my genre, unless some tendency to have LOTR hallucinations were hinted at prior to the scene.