I read a comment by Buckley long ago, regarding advice he had gotten from John Braine (author of How to Write a Novel): that in writing a novel, “the reading public expects one coincidence and is cheated if it isn’t given one, but scorns two.” I’ve always thought that was brilliant. And it’s right: I can tolerate one coincidence in a novel; more than that is annoying. It becomes like John Carter in the boring, serial Mars books. Not sure if you have to have one coincidence, but probably so–otherwise, it’s more like a real-life story, which usually have no designed, plot-like arc. (This is probably one reason I have always tended to dislike movies based on real events such as someone’s life–if they are true to real life, then they will usually have no cinematic story-like arc, no “plot”–just a series of events that tell facts that actually happened in reality; if they are interesting, they probably fiddled with the truth to make it more movie-like, which also bugs me. I’d rather see a documentary or read a biography or history book.)
Here’s an excerpt of an interview with Buckley containing this comment:
Did you say once that when you decided to write a novel John Braine sent you a book on how to write one?
We were friends. … So he used to write me regularly, and I had lunch with him once or twice in London; he was on my television program, along with Kingsley Amis. … when I sent him a letter saying that I was going to write a novel, he said, Well, I wrote a book on how to write a novel, and here it is. So I read it.
Was it helpful?
I remember only one thing—which doesn’t mean that I wasn’t influenced by a hundred things in it—but he said that the reading public expects one coincidence and is cheated if it isn’t given one, but scorns two.