Convenience is rather nice in real life. However, it can cause issues in fiction. If your main character learns something too easily, especially if they just happen to be in the right place at the right time, it can cause issues with believability. I’ve written the following scene to demonstrate this. How much hard-to-swallow convenience can you spot?
The city’s streets were quiet, but Sam kept his hand near his sword’s hilt.
‘You seem on edge tonight,’ Mel said.
‘We’re guards on patrol. We’re s’posed to be on edge.’ He directed them down a side alley. A couple of rats scurried away from the flame of his torch, but everything else was still.
‘More than usual, though. Do you know something I don’t?’
They emerged near the stable. He stopped when they reached it and glanced about before replying. ‘I know plenty you don’t, ’specially as you’re a fresh recruit. But specifically? Yeah, it’s about the princess.’
‘The one in the dungeons?’
‘Know of any others?’ He beckoned her a bit closer. ‘They’re moving her. Tonight.’ Something rustled faintly on the other side of the stable door, the sound entirely missable if Sam hadn’t been listening for it. He leaned against the building’s stone wall next to the entrance.
‘The captain thinks there’s a plan to spring her, so she’s being taken somewhere more secure.’
‘You’re not gonna believe it.’ He dropped his voice to a whisper. ‘Don’t say a thing. Take my torch for a moment.’
Ever so gently, Sam stood and drew his sword. He grinned at her incredulous look, but she freed his other hand up as ordered. Then he turned and rammed the door open. There was a squawk as it caught the man behind it in the face and he went sprawling. Sam heaved him upright and dragged him moaning into the street.
‘Stay where you are,’ he said, placing the tip of his blade in front of the man’s bloody nose. Mel returned his torch and readied a pair of shackles. ‘Care to explain why you were eavesdropping?’
The prisoner winced as she bound his hands behind his back. ‘I got nothing to say to you.’
‘No, I expect not. But let’s see what you tell our interrogators back at the castle.’ He sheathed his sword and pushed him forwards. ‘Off we go. No running off and there’ll be no getting cut down, OK?’
‘How did you know he was there?’ Mel asked as they returned through the alley.
‘Simple, really. I suddenly had the urge to discuss important plans while approaching the stable. Do we usually discuss important plans while out on patrol?’
They entered a wider street, lit by its own torches. Even so, Sam kept his own flame alive. ‘The only reason we’d have that unusual conversation is if someone essential were there to listen to it. It’s just how these things work.’
‘Is it, though?’ He brought them to a halt next to a fairly unassuming wooden barrel. ‘You’ll see it time and time again. Guards have conversation about prisoner being moved, prisoner suddenly gets rescued.’ He had no idea how no one else had worked it out yet. To be fair though, it had taken him a couple of years on the job. He smiled back at Mel. Her raised brows suggested she still wasn’t convinced.
‘You want more proof? Fine. If you were going to eavesdrop on us during tonight’s patrol, where would be the best place to do that?’
She thought for a moment, and then muttered, not without some bitterness, ‘The stable’.
‘Exactly! The place frequently abandoned cos the stable hands like to sneak to the tavern. These conversations always happen where there’s somewhere convenient for someone to hide and overhear them. I tested it out earlier too, actually. I learned about the princess being moved by sneaking out of my quarters and eavesdropping on the captain. She discussed the transfer with the king, right by an unlit corridor.’
‘You spied on the king?’
‘Yup. It was easy.’ He leaned down and propped his torch against the side of the barrel. ‘Now, it’d be convenient for another spy to learn about that unlit corridor, wouldn’t it?’ The wood caught, and soon flames were crackling up the sides. Sam started counting. He got as far as three before there was a yelp and the barrel tipped over.
He levelled his sword at the woman who dragged herself out, and kicked the burning wood into a puddle of filth in the middle of the street. The flames sputtered and died; the discarded torch went out of its own accord.
‘Mel, would you be so kind as to introduce our new friend to my shackles? I’ve only got one hand free.’
He felt the chains leave his belt, and his grin widened. ‘It’s rather lovely being smug, isn’t it?’
‘Absolutely,’ Mel replied. The next things Sam felt were his sword being wrenched from his hand and a kick to the back of his knee. His leg buckled and he went down hard.
‘I was meant to be the one eavesdropping on the king,’ Mel said. Sam moaned as the shackles closed too tightly around his wrists. ‘I was the one supposed to be giving my report to my friends so they could spring the princess. Lucky for me, you did my work for me.’
Sam wanted to scream all sorts of insults at her, but a sudden burst of fear made it rather difficult to speak. ‘Why?’ was all he could manage while being dragged upright.
‘Because there’s just an outside chance that I’m one of the rebels. In other news, you didn’t notice I didn’t do a great job of fastening my friend’s shackles. Guess there’s not so much you know that I don’t.’ She nodded at the man, now free and holding Sam’s sword. He brandished it and glanced back at the alley.
‘You worked out the old guard rule, but you forgot about the other important one,’ she continued once they were back in the shadows. Sam squinted, and could just make out her holding up three fingers. ‘Rule of three. You’ll find it all over the place. Three tasks for a hero, three wishes from a genie. And, tonight, three spies sent to free the princess.’
‘You still don’t know where she’s being taken,’ he said, gripping the last bit of smugness he could find. That died when he heard the scrape of a sword being removed from its scabbard.
‘Not yet,’ Mel replied. ‘But I reckon you’ll be willing to tell us before long.’
Can you think of any films or books where information was gained just a bit too easily? Reply below or email me to let me know!