Sunday, March 26, 2006

Randomness as book plot

I was thinking about the use of randomness as a plot device in fiction. Thornton Wilder used it to good effect in The Bridge of San Luis Rey, in which five people die when a bridge in Peru collapses. The protagonist decides to investigate the lives of these five people to see if there was a purpose to their deaths. (I can't remember the answer but I remember enjoying the book.) Another book that used this device well (or so I thought at the time) was John Buchan's The Gap in the Curtain , in which a few (5 again?) people are "trained" to see into the future. As a result they are all able to read the newspaper for a brief time on a certain date one year ahead. The story tells of what each one read (two of them read their own obituaries, I recall, another a business opportunity, but I forget the rest), and follows what happened as a result to each one over the year to the appointed date. Pretty good stuff.