Thursday, December 3, 2009

Coincidence, Hamsters and a Couple of Other Things

"Coincidence is like a rubber band. Stretch it too far and it snaps. "- Roger Zelazny

Coincidence is a part of life. I’m sure just about everyone has a story to tell about running into someone or receiving a phone call from a friend they were just thinking about but hadn’t seen in years. It’s also a common tool for authors as a way for their characters to get together or to move the action along.

If a writer uses too many coincidences, the story does not ring true. Readers will shake their head in disgust and close the book. I've wondered for quite some time exactly how much coincidence is acceptable in fiction. Recently, I found my anwer.

An article, "The Law of Stackable Hamster," summed up this dilemma nicely. The following is quoted from the article:

"Within a scene in a story, a reader will suspend disbelief to a certain degree in order for the author to tell their tale; however, there is a limit to the number of coincidences you can create within a scene in the book. Or, as my brother explained in an alternate way of considering the number of coincidences to include, there is a limit to the number of hamsters you can stack. You can stack two hamsters and they will generally stay in place; three hamsters and the underlying structure is very wobbly and possibly won’t hold; and you can’t try four or more hamsters because there is no way to stack that many without it falling over right away. Thus, my brother created the Law of Stackable Hamsters in the field of creative writing."

I thought this was a great visual and it's something I’ll keep in mind each time I’m tempted to explain away a scene through coincidence. You can read the whole article here.

Since I have no clue how to segue to the next topic, I’m just going to chalk it up as a coincidence that two subjects met on my blog on the same day.

I have some good news for those people who, like me, didn’t participate in black Friday or cyber Monday and still have all their Christmas shopping to do. It is called The Spirit of the Season Catalog and it allows you to shop without leaving the comfort of your home. The catalog is full of wonderful gift ideas which includes books of all genres, works of art, handmade jewelry (where all the proceeds help support widows and orphans in Kenya) and assorted services.

Of course, my novel, The Ride, is listed (it's under Mainstream Fiction). It does make a wonderful gift. It’s also the perfect gift to give yourself for those times when you’ll need a break from the hustle and bustle of the season. It's easy. Scroll down the page until you see the picture of the cover (it looks exactly like this one) and click on the "Buy Now" button.

For anyone who would like to personalize the book, I’ll be happy to send you, FREE OF CHARGE, a signed bookplate. Simply email me ( with the name of the person the book is to and anything else you’d like me to include on the bookplate. Or, you can simply request, "signature only." The free signed bookplate applies regardless of how you purchase the book (through the catalog, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local bookseller and so on).

Uh oh, looks like I’m stacking three hamsters.

However, I couldn’t leave without thanking Stephen Tremp for honoring me with his Awesome Maximus Award. If you haven’t visited Stephen’s Breakthrough Blogs for the Aspiring Author, where he is “Weaving together breakthroughs in physics and technology with greed, murder, and mayhem,” you might want to stop by. He discusses all sort sorts of interesting and fascinating theories including wormholes and black holes.

Now, I’m really done—no more hamsters today. Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Zelazny, hamsters, Spirit of the Season Catalog, The Ride, Steven Tremp,


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love the idea of hamster stacking! Too funny. And they're a reader I only want to suspend my disbelief a couple of times during a book.

Mystery Writing is Murder

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Great analogy!! I'm gonna have to remember those hamsters.

Michele Emrath said...

Hamster stacking is the most fabulous image I've had in a while! But maybe I should cite you for animal cruelty? ; )

I love a little shameless PR early in the morning...Seriously though, thanks for pushing your book out there with a little humour. I am intrigued by it! It is officially on my wishlist.


Joanne said...

That is just the kind of whimsical visual that'll stick, reminding me to watch out for those contrivances. And I agree with the theory, one too many and the whole scene collapses!

Carol Kilgore said...

The hamster image is priceless. It's now stuck in my memory banks along with Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. Thanks.

The Old Silly said...

Love the analogy - and well deserved award - congrats, Jane!

Marvin D Wilson

Helen Ginger said...

I think your three hamsters stacked quite well. What a great packed post today. I'm with you on the coincidences in a book. One raises my disbelief button, two or more makes me push the button. And I totally love the hamster analogy. It is one that sticks in your head since it's so visual.

Straight From Hel

Karen Walker said...

The hamster stacking visual is one that will not leave me any time soon. Thanks, Jane.

Jen Chandler said...

Hehe, hamster stacking! Thanks for posting this! I love the visual.

And thanks for the link to the "spirit of the season" catalog. I will be checking that out!

Happy Thursday,

arlee bird said...

I was also honored to have Stephen Tremp's "Awesome Maximus Award" bestowed upon me. But I was equally honored to be in such fine company as writers like yourself and the others who were mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Hamster stacking ..... Interesting way of looking at things. Reminds me of how my wife puts things on the closet shelf. Open the door and stuff falls all over me.

Stephen Tremp

Sharon said...

I couldn't resist adding a comment. This coincidence = hamster stacking analogy may apply for fiction, but our true story is absolutely filled with coincidences! Life is like that sometimes.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Stacking hamsters...too funny. But it's true that coincidence is easier to accept in real life than it is in fiction. Isn't that odd?

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Coincidence is handy. A technique that's similar is, "Planting." Show that death ray gun in chapter 3 as an item in the protag's house. In chapter 12, when he or she needs to shoot the space monster, not so much coincidence is involved as otherwise might be.

Best Wishes, Galen.

Alexis Grant said...

Hey! You're so right about coincidence. I had one that was too much in one of my chapters this week, and my critique group picked it right out for me. If we don't catch them, readers will!

Cindy (Letters From Midlife) said...

Great blog...I'm glad I found it.

Bob Sanchez said...

Hi Jane,
Like everyone else, I enjoyed the stackable hamster analogy. But I don't think it's only the number of coincidences, but their nature. A character running into an endless string of bad luck is easier for the reader to stay with than one bit of too-good luck. For example, if your character walks in on her cheating spouse, storms off in a fury, trips and falls, goes to the emergency room and hears she's going to run up a huge medical bill she can't afford, and on her way home she gets a speeding ticket, but then she buys a winning lottery ticket that solves all her problems, what's the worst part of this? Yeah, there are too many improbabilities, but don't you think the coincidence that solves her problem is the worst of all?

Bob Sanchez

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world