Are you quick to dismiss coincidences as just random meaningless blips in the universe, or are you the kind of person who believes that everything happens for a reason?
I’m not sure why I asked that question, because when you’re a writer, your real-life take on coincidence doesn’t matter. The sad truth is that when you write, you can’t rely on coincidences to save your writing. The reality is that making fictional events happen by coincidence will weaken your story and make your readers roll their eyes and possibly even throw the book across the room in frustration.
It’s the same with movies or plays or any other kind of fiction. Your grand coincidence may be the deus ex machina that destroys your story while appearing to save it.
I don’t know how many of you have seen The Secret of NIMH (1982), but it’s one of my favorite movies of all time, despite the supposedly huge deus ex machina at the end. Our main character, Mrs. Brisby, was given a mysterious red amulet earlier in the film, and some critics argue that the power within the amulet that allowed Mrs. Brisby to move her cinder block house to save her children was a deus ex machina in that the character herself did not solve her conflict by her own power. The film’s director stated that the amulet was a symbol for Mrs. Brisby’s own inner strength and thus served as an extension of that power when her physical strength would not save her. So perhaps it’s not as big of a coincidence as it initially appears to be.
The moral of the story is that when using coincidental events in your writing, you have to be extremely careful to avoid anything that’s overly contrived. I read somewhere that one coincidence per story is plenty, but I personally think that just one coincidence can make a story fall apart. So I would avoid coincidences and deus ex machina altogether.
I wanted to give a shout-out to some lesser-known animated films. Here are some of my favorites – feel free to comment below with your favorites.
1. Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1992) – There’s something about dream sequences that I love, even though the majority will agree that they don’t always make for a good story. Little Nemo works quite well for a movie almost entirely made up of dream sequences. It’s about a little boy who has very vivid dreams, and they take him to an alternate world called Slumberland, where he must rescue the King before the world is wiped out by nightmares. The cast of strange characters, including a flying squirrel and a cigar-smoking clown, really makes this movie a hit.
2. The Brave Little Toaster (1987) – Similar to the Toy Story series, a little boy’s childhood possessions are abandoned and attempt to make their way back to him. I admire any movies that make inanimate objects sympathetic to the viewer.
3. The Secret of NIMH (1982) – By far my favorite childhood movie, the animation of this one was flawless for its time. The characters were well-drawn, sympathetic, and given good backstories. The only issue with the film’s plot was the “deus ex machina” at the end, brought on by fantastical elements that were not part of the book.
4. Once Upon a Forest (1993) – The more I think about this movie, the more I consider it environmentalist/animal rights propaganda. Some scenes may be a bit disturbing for the movie’s intended audience, but overall, it’s a sweet, “woodland creature” movie with some important lessons about friendship.
5. Watership Down (1978) – Despite this movie being animated, I would not recommend it to kids under age 10. It can be a bit violent at times; definitely not an innocent movie about sweet little bunnies. Even so, it’s got a lot of depth behind it – much more than your typical animated film.