There's one thing in literature that no matter how cliche or over used it might be, I always find very compelling. For example, when a story unfolds as if there is a larger force at work moving all of the events to a single purpose. When even the most distant flashbacks seem to have purpose and effects to the current day events and how the plot unfolds. Honestly, I can't actually think of any pure examples of this off the top of my head but I was wondering if there is a technical term for this or a way that I can look up examples of this.

EDIT: Some better thoughts are things like "The Chosen One" in literature. Where a prophecy is made and one of the main characters seems to be determined to fit that role.

  • Are you looking for keywords or search terms so you can do further research? Apr 7, 2015 at 17:31
  • Yes. I've been trying to do a search for this but I haven't been able to come up with the right keywords.
    – JohnN
    Apr 7, 2015 at 17:41
  • Fate. Prophesy. Destiny. Often there's a "battle between good and evil." Apr 7, 2015 at 17:49

3 Answers 3


Life is random. Fiction is not.

This is called "plot".

The basic rule of (most, regular) fiction is that everything that goes on in the narration must somehow relate to the protagonist and his goals. You do not fill your story will irrelavant details or randomly string together people and events that lead nowhere.

In life, things might happen that have no relation to what you are on about. For example, a husband might try to save his wife from a kidnapper and get run over by a drunk diver. End of story. In a novel, this would make the readers throw away the book and never buy anything by that author again. In fiction, the husband must battle the kidnapper, not the randomness of the world.

The reason for this is that we do not experience life as random. We look back on our lives and see how everything appears to have happened to lead us just to this moment. Richard Feynman uses this perception to illustrate the fallacy of a posteriori conclusions:

You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won’t believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!

Fate is how we feel about our lives, and fiction – which is usually told in the mode of looking back on events and attempting to make sense of them – does just that: make sense of randomness.

Of course there is experimental fiction that breaks the basic rule of having a coherent plot and plays with the reader's expectation, but even this fiction only works before the background of that convention.

  • I think a better example might be a story in which a husband tries to save his wife from a kidnapper and then on the way he gets low on gas so he stops to refill the tank and while he's at the convenience store he buys a candy bar and then he gets back in the car to continue chasing the kidnapper and ... the bit about stopping for gas never comes up again and has no relevance to how the story ends. We expect everything in a story to be relevant to the plot, or a deliberate red herring. Now and then somebody gets the idea that he will right a more "realistic" story where all sorts of random ...
    – Jay
    Apr 8, 2015 at 20:48
  • ... things happen that don't lead anywhere. Such stories tend to not be the avante garde thrilling experiments their authors intend, but rather to simply be boring, because ... things happen that don't lead anywhere.
    – Jay
    Apr 8, 2015 at 20:49
  • 1
    BTW whether real life is a series of random events or if it has an ultimate purpose is, of course, a profound philosophical/religious question that people have been debating for millennia.
    – Jay
    Apr 8, 2015 at 20:52
  • 1
    @Jay The fact that this ultimate purpose is still debated is proof that life at least appears to be random – if it didn't, the ultimate purpose would be clear and there would be no reason for debate.
    – user5645
    Apr 9, 2015 at 6:15
  • Well, I'd think the fact that it is debated means that there are elements that appear to be random and elements that appear to have purpose. If it was unquestionably one or the other, it wouldn't be debated. Of course people may see patterns to events that are really random, because our minds try to seek out a pattern. Or people may think that events are random when they really have a purpose, because they don't have the perspective to see the big picture. The latter being, by the way, an element in many fiction stories: at the end the writer ties many seemingly random events together.
    – Jay
    Apr 9, 2015 at 12:33

A good example would for what you're talking about may be found in the Harry Potter series, in which, correspondingly to your EDIT, there is a spotlight on Harry Potter being the chosen one. Her literary shortcomings aside, Rowling weaved the most intricate plot i have ever witnessed in a series. In fact, upon finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, i was completely mind-bugled trying to comprehend the scope and cross-book connections of the series. She also utilizes plenty of flashbacks containing crucial information on the protagonist and antagonist. I haven't heard of a term for what you're describing, but as for an example, i daresay you'd be hard pressed to find one better than Harry Potter.

  • This is what I'm talking about. I understand that ultimately this is a matter of plot. However, there is plenty of fiction where you want the plot to seem utterly random. As if the events have no real purpose behind them and the characters are just experiencing them as they live life. I'm talking specifically about fiction where the plot seems to all be orchestrated by perhaps something even in universe. Like the potter series where we can imagine that magic is driving harry's destiny
    – JohnN
    Apr 8, 2015 at 15:28

One of the main techniques that can be used to build a sense of epic destiny is foreshadowing, where events that will come later in the narrative are hinted at, or alluded to earlier.

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