“Grouard yanked his walkie-talkie off his belt and attempted to call for backup. All he heard was static…” “Au secours!” the guard’s voice yelled. … “Au secours!” he shouted again into his radio. Static. “He can’t transmit,” Sophie realized, recalling that tourists with cell phones often got frustrated in here when they tried to call home to brag about seeing the Mona Lisa….”
I never made it to the end of The Da Vinci Code, the movie. The relentless coincidences in endless chase scenes through worn-out tourist stops in search of a killer, a whacko albino assassin, a maleficent secret religious sex society, and an adjustable Holy Grail were more than I could swallow. ‘I’ll read the book,’ I thought, knowing the movie is never as good as the book. I did make it through the book, although it was a hard slog over many months, my mind teasing me with the thought ‘I’ll read some more; it has to get better -this book sold millions.’ It didn’t.
The portions quoted above, from the earliest chapter, are why: the book continually wrote itself into corners, then came up with serendipitous lucky finds to keep going.
Turns of events should not be coincidental; they should be foretold, albeit in a way that when they are revealed, the reader might ask ‘How did I miss that?’ A drop into the mine-shaft should not be relieved by discovery of an abandoned ladder. A surprise lock on the very door through which one must enter should not be cracked open by the equally surprising discovery of a crowbar that happens to be lying around. And a couple of people fleeing a murder scene in the Louvre must not get away because the guard who must (in the world of credible experiences) carry a walkie-talkie can’t get (anticipated) backup because the walkie-talkie doesn’t work in the Louvre, particularly doesn’t work for the same reason that my cell phone doesn’t work in the Louvre. Either (a) the Louvre security team has figured out how to make their walkie-talkies work when they need them or (b) the author realized he had written a scene that wasn’t credible without the presence of a security guard but a reasonably competent security guard would kill the rest of the story unless the heroes made an escape and, hey, how about if electronic communications don’t work in the Louvre? Lucky escape, that.
I flinched, and never stopped flinching, as the characters went on to discover keys, codes, 24 hour Swiss banks with crackable passwords, Templar puzzle boxes, relationships, jet planes, tombs, and remote chapels in Scotland that just happened to pop up when needed. This wasn’t a novel; it was a yarn. The temptation to judge it by its financial profits must be leavened by the thought that one can make a yarn out of anything if one is willing to write things that are not credible, even within the story of the story. A pox on verisimilitude.
Plant the seeds before the harvest. Don’t wait until you have a page or a chapter of a story before realizing you are in a corner and must write your way out. If you are going to write a flat tire onto the escape car, plant the seed of a good Samaritan farmer on the road long before the escape car breaks down. But, if you want readers to turn the next page, don’t surprise them with something that only luck would provide. Roses don’t spring from rocks; they spring from seeds, planted, watered, and enjoyed when they appear in their own due time. And it is best to begin when the flower pot is empty, free of weeds, and ripe for something to burrow in and show up later, in its time.