One of the worst things a story can do is create something that is entirely contrived. It can completely destroy a story if a contrived event comes drives the story. I’ll admit that I went a long time in my life without really knowing what contrived meant. Upon learning the definition and its role within stories I realized that it was all the times where I thought, well isn’t that convenient. Or what a coincidence. I’ve learned that unless something is a true coincidence, everything in a story is done for a reason, the question is whether it’s done for the right reason.
What Does it Mean to be Contrived
By definition when something is contrived it is intentionally created rather than being naturally or spontaneously. That means when you are reading a story and something just seems to happen an a manufactured way it is contrived. If a series of events have odd outcomes that combine into an even odder event, it may be contrived. Unless a story is an exact retelling of real life events it stands the risk of being contrived.
Can’t Avoid it All
The fact that a story is created means that in some ways it is contrived no matter what. As long as someone is working behind the scenes it will be contrived, however how it is presented can be controlled. A contrived event is created so it will have an impact. It is the character and story working in a way that makes the story move better and hit the intended notes. Thus, a contrived event can be highly interesting,while still being contrived.
Why Contrived is Bad
A contrived story is generally not good. That is because the events in the story are coming across as designed rather than natural. When something feels like it is designed it can take the audience out of the story. An audience wants to believe a story and to an extent they will give the story the benefit of the doubt. Once that leeway is used up an audience can sour on a story. A contrived event is a bit strike against the story. This is because whatever happened does not feel natural to the story and we must suspend our disbelief for the event to work.
One of the most recent contrived moments in a story occurred in The 100. Recently two characters, Clarke and Finn, who hadn’t previously shown much affection toward each other were suddenly hooking up. You can blame spontaneity for this, or you can say that in real life two stranded teenagers may do this. However, a story needs to make more sense than real life to not feel manufactured. Instead we see these two characters hook up the evening before his girlfriend arrives on Earth. It just seemed too convenient that it would happen at that moment. Thus it felt like Clarke and Finn hooking up was not natural, but contrived. The event of them hooking up, wasn’t to indicate that these were just people finally getting together, it wasn’t the characters acting on a whim, it was the characters doing something that would cause tension in the story. To make matters worse, it was clearly indicated that it was the point. It wasn’t as though these forced actions just happened and then in the next episode we saw that his real girlfriend arrived. No, the event of Clarke and Finn getting together was juxtaposed against Raven hurtling down to Earth in her pod.
What contrived moments bother you? Can you overlook contrived moment?