I’d never have met my husband if it hadn’t been for that freshman math requirement at my liberal arts college.
I’d never have even gone in the math building.
He was a junior and I was a freshman and that was the only class we ever shared. Without that class, I wouldn’t have met him, married him, wouldn’t have two children who look like him. Maybe I’d be working now and not have as much time to write.
Some ascribe to the notion that you’re destined to follow a particular path no matter what—that maybe he and I wouldn’t have met in a classroom without that math requirement, but we’d have met at a party instead and I’d have still ended up where I am now.
I don’t think I believe that.
I like writing in little twists of fate in for my characters. My character recently had a day that could be charted like this: got up, went to the main setting, witnessed the soon-to-be-murder-victim behaving badly, went back home.
The path was boring, so I shook it up with a flat tire and a good Samaritan. Not only did I throw up an obstacle for my protagonist, but I forced her to be late for an event that she needed to get to. I sent her day on a different trajectory.
We can’t do this type of thing to change the ultimate course of the book or save the protagonist—this reeks of deus ex machina and is incredibly frustrating for readers. Actually, it would never get to the reader because the editor would take that sucker right out.
But if my book is getting predictable, if my characters are stuck in a rut, if my middle is a little saggy, I like to introduce a small twist to send them off in a different direction. They’re initially reluctant to follow that direction (like I was reluctant to take college mathematics), but the end result is more satisfying to read.