Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The convenient inheritance

I came across a couple of pet peeves of mine recently while reading. I'm enjoying the book otherwise, so these flaws are not fatal, but they tend to draw an eye roll from me.

One of them is what I call the "convenient inheritance." The main character needs money to live on, and maybe even to support someone else (a child, elderly parent, or sibling who can't live independently). What to do? How can this character earn a living and meet her other obligations, too? Well--how about if someone just ups and dies and leaves her the money? Problem solved! Aside from the fact that this plot twist usually strikes me as unrealistic, the bigger problem is that it's a deus ex machina, and a missed opportunity for the character to take charge of the situation, to be the one driving the plot.

The convenient inheritance doesn't have to be just an inheritance--it could be any unlikely windfall: a lottery win, a casual invention that proves unexpectedly lucrative, a rich celebrity who becomes suddenly attached to our unassuming protagonist. Such windfalls have to be very carefully set up, and even then I usually find myself wishing the author had figured out some other way to resolve things.

This device doesn't bother me as much when it's the catalyst that starts off a story. In that way, it tends to be the beginning of other challenges. This plotline goes: Given that this unlikely event has occurred, what's going to happen next? The convenient inheritance bothers me the most when it occurs at the end, serving as the facilitator for "happily ever after."

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