Pub Rants

Winning The Lottery Is Not A Theme

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STATUS: Finally back in the office after my super long weekend. Yep, piles of paper that need my attention. Actually, two contracts. One needs the final vet before sending to the author for signing and the other is awaiting a response from the house Contracts Manager. Digging right in.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? THANK YOU by Dido

I have to admit that this topic has bothered me for the longest time, and I’m finally getting around to giving it a good rant.

I’m nixing all manuscripts that have winning the lottery as a plot device. No more. Lay this tired ole topic down (or shoot it).

This might work as a movie theme (a la Eddie Murphy in that rags to riches tale TRADING PLACES or something quirky like the Irish WAKING NED DEVINE) but as a novel plot element, it’s just blah.

Usually the queries received revolve around one character winning the lottery and that changes his or her life.

Well, duh.

But there really isn’t anything all that interesting in the premise. It’s not a great vehicle for exploring character development or an interesting tool to explore a human conflict.

It is, however, a nice, worn out plot device.

I’m not kidding when I say that the majority of “winning the lottery” queries we receive have an outline that looks like this:

1. Main character wins lotto
2. Character becomes irresponsible and materialistic
3. Alienates family, lover, colleague or all in various order
4. Must learn the true meaning of life (which usually means something like money can’t buy you love or happiness)

Sign me up for that one. Not.

23 Responses

  1. kis said:

    What about a guy who wins fifty bucks on a scratch-and-win, and it changes his life? Like, you know, he takes his old lady out to dinner, and they get mowed down in the crossfire of a mob hit gone bad or something? He ends up handicapped, and sues the lottery corporation of New York for damages. Haha.


    Maybe I better go copyright that?

  2. December Quinn said:

    OMGs you mean people actually do write that?

    I assumed it was one of those plot devices that nobody would touch anymore, it’s so…done. Even without being done a lot, it’s done.

    Especially with that Jason Lee show on TV now. The Earl show? We don’t get it over here but Jason Lee is such a hottie. 🙂

  3. Cindy Procter-King said:

    I’ve never read a novel about someone winning the lottery, but I had to laugh b/c I was watching TV a couple of days ago and there was a promo for a summer series based on–you got it!–a group of people who win the lottery and the effect it has on their lives.


  4. lizzie26 said:

    How about someone winning the lottery but the prize isn’t money. Instead, the winner gets killed. Oh. Sorry. That’s been done, too. : )

  5. Anonymous said:

    love the blog!

    quick question about an earlier post. You wrote that all queries up to May something had been answered if they were a no from Sara. Does that mean you are looking over the rest?

    Just curious!

  6. lottery ticket said:

    I would just like to state for the record that, despite the moniker I use on line, my novel contains no mention of lotteries and no lottery byproducts.

  7. Anonymous said:

    The tv show about the lottery is called “Windfall” and stars none other than Luke Perry.

    So it must be good right?

  8. 2readornot said:

    I liked Mary Higgins Clark’s WEEP NO MORE, which had a lottery winner in it…and she used that character at least one other time in another book, which was also entertaining, I thought…didn’t realize others used it. Guess I’m just not that hip.

  9. Anonymous said:

    Some people have no imagination and can only dream about one thing…. money and the instant gratification it brings. So when they write a novel, they think of their dream, winning the lottery.

    I’m not suprised that you get many manuscripts with this theme.

  10. kis said:

    Ugh, not what I would want to write about. I mean, no one wants to read about people who sit back and let happiness fall on them like divine bird poo. Boring!

    But winning the lottery and finding out money can’t buy happiness? Not what I want to hear, either. I’d rather stay in my nice fantasy world where I win (or inherit) millions, and everything goes swimmingly from that point on. No need to turn it into a nightmare, thanks.

    Hmm, now if I could only incorporate Gerard Butler and a case of nice merlot in there somewhere, I’d have some real fantasy fodder…

  11. Simon Haynes said:

    Heh. I’ve got a character who wins a brand new robot in a lottery, thus severely p!ssing off his existing, aged, robot. (Who gets the wrong end of the stick, and thinks he’s being replaced.)
    Mind you, the book was published two months ago so it’s too late to go back and change things 😉
    I agree with you, though. A lottery win as a major plot device is nuts, because all we have to do is pick up the paper and read those same stories for real.

  12. Sam said:

    I loved Hiaason’s ‘Lucky’ – that was such a hoot. But it would take an author like him to pull off a winning the lottery tale!
    I have to admit – I’ve never read any other winning the lottery books – although there was that Beverly Hillbillies series that would sort of go along with the theme, LOL!

  13. Anonymous said:

    After “Waking Ned Devine” all others shall be designated crap. One of my all time favorites. -JTC

  14. Patrick McNamara said:

    It’s often a good idea to stay away from stories that are currently in the movies or on TV. Often they are ideas ripped from something currently in publication. A writer should be a leader, not a follower.

    Of course there are times when one may have already written something of the same theme, but that’s unavoidable. It’s also common to have similarities with other stories, while creating a completely new story.

    I suppose a similar theme would be for a writer to sell their manuscript for a million.

  15. Cheryl Mills said:

    Oh pooh. I just finished a manuscript where a woman is picking herbs in the forest and comes across a winning lottery ticket, but when she goes to claim the money, the door to the lottery office is actually a portal into Rabbitania.

  16. Anonymous said:

    I just had to add a comment to cheryl mills comment:

    LOL and LMAO!!
    By any chance, when your heroine lands in Rabbitania, are the men there desperate for women to procreate? And she is the only one who can save their planet from slavers through her fiery will?
    But then in the second chapter we find out it was all just a dream?


  17. pacatrue said:

    Well, it looks like Cheryl’s already taken my plot. I’m just going to have to let it go and move on to another idea I had recently concerning a dangerous quest for the Great Scepter of Truth. Everything starts on a dark and stormy night when the wizard, let’s call him “Ferlin”… Oh wait, I’m forgetting to tell you about the prologue.

  18. Anonymous said:

    I’ve actually met some lottery winners in my time. Not one of them looked like Luke Perry.

    The one thing they all had in common was a desire to vanish into some fenced, guarded private community so they wouldn’t have to deal with an endless line of big-eyed, I’m-so-happy-for-you relatives wanting a piece of the pie.

    Since even the promo ads are making me sick I’m skipping that moronic TV show.

    Sadly, it will probably be a hit.

  19. Kathy Holmes said:

    Now that’s funny. Too bad I didn’t read this before I wrote my latest ms – although she only won the lottery as a device to buy her super-expensive LA childhood home – and there the lottery portion of the story ends. I’ll have to make sure no lottery is mentioned in the query or synopsis for future submissions. 🙂