Monday, November 22, 2010

Beware of the Three Cs in Writing

It’s funny how I’ve become so used to scrutinizing novels that story dissection has translated into TV shows, movies, and now even animated films. Over the weekend, my family watched CORALINE. While the plot and characters were a little strange, I have to applaud the writer for thinking out of the box. Unfortunately, I can’t give the writer too much credit because I was disappointed in the black moment of the story.

SPOILER ALERT. Coraline needed to find three sets of eyes in order to save the souls of the lost children. She found all three, but was unable to get the last pair from the evil rats. She succumbed to the fact that she’d failed, then the cat came along with the rat and the set of eyes. I almost screamed. If this was a printed story from a beginning author, the editor would’ve had a fit. This is a BIG NO-NO in the writing world. It’s called coincidence, convenience, and contrived issues. The three Cs.

The reason this is a problem is because the protagonist is weak. In this case, Coraline wasn’t able to succeed without the convenient help of the cat. I was rooting for her, even when she thought she’d lost. All the writer had to do was have her realize she was stronger than that, or have her think up a new, better plan—anything to give her the chance to beat the villain. Having the cat conveniently come by with the “treasure” killed the whole story for me. Coraline didn’t deserve the victory she had because she didn’t earn it.

Now, don’t get this confused with a hero and heroine who work together throughout the story to eventually conquer the beast or kill the villain. The story about Coraline is different because she was clearly the protagonist. While the cat did make appearances and offered explanations, he was never more than a side-kick.

Why did I rant about this today? Well, I felt I needed to share this so you could ensure you weren’t making the same mistake with your novel.

Have you read or watched a story that disappointed you in the same manner?


  1. That is sort of odd that the writer didn't allow the protagonist to earn the victory...

    This is a great thing to keep in mind while constructing a plot. Thank you for sharing!


  2. I remember reading a book--which had some very good bits in it, so I won't malign it by name here--that had a princess who was set up to be a pretty kickass character. She was a rebel who wore pants and rode horses and argued intelligently with men.

    At the end of the book, the author had her rescued not once, but twice, by men.

    Argh. This isn't exactly one of the three Cs, but I'd argue it felt contrived in the sense that the character's carefully-created personality was rendered superfluous by the story's resolution. Why set her up to be that way if she was going to prove unable to save herself? It wasn't believable.

    She was Chekov's gun in human form: The author put her on the mantle, but he never fired her.

  3. Nice analogy, jj.

    Lynnette Labelle

  4. There have been a few books and movies, but I honestly can remember them at the moment. What has been bugging me lately is predicability of some of the tv shows I've been watching. Few suprises.

  5. yes!! Good points!!! I have watched TV shows like this - in fact one of my favorites breaks the rules all the time ... CSI MIAMI. :) but I still love the show, I just have to mentally disengage myself from critique mode.

  6. Urgh. One of my biggest pet peeves. It's sort of like they're just HANDING the story to them-"Here, this is exactly what you need, I'll give it to you at not cost whatsoever!"

    No. Doesn't work that way. THANK YOU for reminding me of this-it's a mistake I'm definitely not willing to make!

  7. Thanks for the post. I am learning new things every day in the writing world.

  8. This reminds me of DEUS EX MACHINA, where something or someone appears to save the day when it appears all is lost.

    You're right, Lynnette, it's totally annoying!

  9. Oh yeah, that ruins a story for me. I love to see my hero's go all the way and prove themselves the best character for the task.

    I like that - the 3 C's. I hadn't thought of unsatisfactory endings in that light. I think convenience is the most common irksome mistake. Much food for thought.


  10. Thanks to you, I now have the three Cs in my head!

    I'm meeting you for the first time. Twins! I raised four children but no twins, and when they were small, I barely could read let alone write.

    You write, critique, and have created a beautiful blog!! Cheers.
    Ann Best, Long Journey Home