Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Luck (and the lack of it) in books

This is my first post here on YA Outside the Lines, though I’ve been a devoted reader for a while. I’m excited to be posting here in such fine company!

This month, our theme is luck. My colleagues have been talking about authors’ luck (and, sometimes the lack of it), and I want to change things up a bit by talking about characters’ luck.

Interestingly, as big a role as luck plays in an author’s journey—and in life—it plays very little in the lives of characters. Stories are where we examine patterns and meaning, where we explore cause and effect. Generally, we don’t want characters to solve their problems by winning the lottery, or to have their downfalls through random accident. We want them to rise and fall by their own efforts—by what they learn, or fail to learn.

Luck and chance can play a role in a story, but it’s what the character does about that good or bad luck that counts. Katniss Everdeen goes to the Hunger Games by volunteering to replace her sister, thus taking control of the bad luck that has befallen her family, to the limited extent that she can. The fact that she makes this choice arouses our sympathy and admiration even more than if her name had been the one originally drawn. Bad luck sends Peeta Mellark to the Hunger Games, and that sets a certain story line in motion, but it’s how he conducts himself at those games that makes him who he is.


Bad luck strikes Dane Rafferty in the form of Guillain-Barre syndrome in Monica M. Roe’s Thaw, but the story revolves not around passive suffering, but about the choices Dane makes: whether to cooperate in his therapy, and how to treat the people around him. “Alice” in Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl is almost powerless, a literal hostage, but at the center of the story is the one decision she can make and act upon. Ollie in Shaun David Hutchinson’s The Deathday Letter has the misfortune to receive a warning that he has just one more day to live: the point of the story is what he chooses to do with it.

Luck teases us, knocks us around, favors and deserts us for reasons we can’t comprehend. But through stories, we take some measure of power, exploring what we can do with luck, and why our choices matter.


  1. LOVE this post, Jennifer! You're right--our characters all have to be made of tough stuff. (I'd much rather read about a tough protagonist than a lucky one!)

  2. Welcome Jenn--this was a fantastic post! You hit the nail on the head. So glad to have you at YAOTL!!!

  3. Jennifer,

    I enjoyed your post very much, thanks. Bad luck (and our characters' reaction to it) does make the journey so much more interesting, doesn't it?


    Monica Roe

  4. Monica: Thank you for stopping by! I really liked THAW. :-)