March Theme: Luck Tropes by Platte F. Clark

“Luck protects fools, small children and ships named Enterprise.” William Riker, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

On behalf of protagonists everywhere, let me give my sincere thanks for luck (or Mr. Lucky, as he doesn’t like to be called). Just where would all our heroes be without it? For one, the suit of armor serendipitously found at the climax wouldn’t fit—not even close. And that library book needed for the kid detective to solve the mystery? Yep, totally checked out.

In fact, Mr. Lucky (seriously, never call him that) is so important to our story crafting that there’s a number of tropes named for him. Sometimes it takes the form of various charms, potions, and curses. Often it’s a condition of birth (being born naturally lucky or unlucky), or one of my favorites, being born SO unlucky it seems like a cosmic force is just picking on you. Many writers understand this one.

Think about “The Fool” character for a moment. Typically, he or she HAS to be lucky; otherwise they’d be dead (or at least in a full body cast most of the time.) Then there’s the “Idiot Hero” who gets things done by simply being lucky rather than smart or skilled (this is closely related to the “Luck-Based Mission” where victory depends on luck instead of skill.)

One of my other favorite luck tropes is “The Magic Poker Equation” where “the more skilled you are at cards, the luckier you are in what hands you get.” Seriously, only James Bond can draw a Royal Flush or it just isn’t believable.

But probably most important of all is the “Two-Headed Coin” trope. Basically it’s a way one makes their own luck. From Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, to Doc Savage, to Disney’s Zorro. The two-headed coin is used by heroes and villains alike to force Mr. Lucky to take a seat at the back of the bus (admittedly, where the cool kids sit, but still out of the way).

I suppose that’s also my view on luck and “the biz” (as “Mr. Lucky” likes to call it). Sure, we can get wrapped up in the fortuitous breaks afforded to this person or that. But I like to think we can create our own “two-headed coins”. And if we catch a few breaks along the way, even better.


  1. Love your take on this month's theme, Platte. You're right--we DO heap an awful lot of good luck on our protagonists!


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