These words of wisdom were spoken by my wife as I threw down my book, rolling my eyes and making an inarticulate sound of disgust that she has come to know all too well during our many years together. “Yes, it is,” I agreed with heartfelt exasperation.
Let me back up a little here and give you some context. I’m currently wading my way through the enormously popular and successful Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, mostly courtesy of my wife, who is a huge fan of both books and TV series. (She was delighted with the Clan Fraser scarf I got her for Christmas last year, and only slightly less excited by the Clan Fraser tie I purchased for myself so we could match at formal events. Of such spousal sacrifices are strong marriages made.) My wife hooked me in by getting me to watch the first season of the TV series with her, which I mostly enjoyed (with the strong exception of the graphic sexually predatory violence towards the male protagonist by the villain --- a topic I explored in some detail in another post, which you can find here if you’re interested). And the second season of the TV series was great, I thought. So... not wanting to be guilty of Cardinal Sin #1 --- something I’m always sternly wagging my finger at my students about --- I started reading the books. Although I bought my own copies... my books are my books, and while I love my wife, there are some things a person just doesn’t share with anyone else. (Cardinal Sin #1? you ask, as well you might. So here it is: Watching The Film Version Of Anything Without Reading The Book. I usually draw myself up to my full height and declaim this to them in the sepulchral tones of an Old Testament prophet. And then I frequently add Thou Shalt Not Do That, Thou Uncultured Barbarian. Or words to that effect.)
Anyway. Reading the books. Yes. I have made my way through the first three so far, and am currently working on the fourth, Drums of Autumn. They’re mostly very good books, well written, although as I said in my Goodreads review of one of them, my biggest objection --- up until my comment at the beginning of this post, anyway --- has been that I find the mommy-porn tiresome. (Jamie and Claire, the two protagonists, can hardly keep their hands off each other, which is fine, I suppose --- they might want to get their hormone levels checked by a doctor --- but I’m not sure it’s really necessary to provide us the graphic details all the time, and I’m definitely sure it doesn’t do a thing to advance the plot. They’re like a couple of randy old rabbits, yeah, we get it, can we move on now, please?)
Anyway. The comment at the head of the post... and the point of today’s epistle. The startling coincidences and the plot twists and the scenes-of-people-missing-each-other-by-seconds-with-dreadful-repercussions and the well-if-you’d-told-me-this-before-we-wouldn’t-be-in-this-mess-now situations are all beginning to be... a bit much. At least for me. (Passionate defenders of all things Outlander, you’re entitled to your opinions. Absolutely. And so am I.) And I just happen to think that when a story reaches the stage where a reader starts rolling their eyes in disbelief at just how many things can happen to one couple, when situations start to sound like a series of coincidences on the order of winning the Irish Sweepstakes... then the writer has strained the Willing Suspension of Disbelief just a little too much. And I think writers need to guard against that happening. Because reaching that stage is where readers start falling away.
(I’m going to make my obligatory Tolkien reference here today and say that I never felt that way with Frodo and his quest. While people could make, and have made, the observation that the story advances at times at a very leisurely pace --- although the tale was written in a very different cultural environment than ours today --- it’s not full of weird coincidences and situations that stretch credulity. At least, I don’t think so.)
Will I continue to read the Outlander series? Yes. (For now. Unless and until I find I’m rolling my eyes like a Vegas slot machine.) As I said, I do find them mostly well written and entertaining. But I find it interesting that even my wife, Outlander fan extraordinaire, acknowledges that things are getting awfully convoluted/credulity-stretching in the Outlander universe. And, she says, it only gets more so.
Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. (Ooh! Jamie is going to wind up in a Revolutionary War battle on the opposite side of his illegitimate son, who doesn’t know Jamie is his dad! Yeah, I got a plot spoiler on that one.)
In the meantime... I guess we can boil today’s theme down to this: keep your writing clean. While there’s nothing essentially wrong with plot twists and coincidences --- every one of us uses them in our writing, after all --- make sure they don’t begin straining credulity. If a reader starts muttering, “Seriously?” too often as they’re making their way through a story... it’s in trouble.