Car Accidents In Fiction: Always Cliché or Sometimes OK?

Car accidents happen and, unfortunately, lots of people die in them. In 2009, nearly 34,000 people died in car accidents in the United States (US Census Bureau Statistic). Chances are that you’re aware of someone who has died in a car. It’s a sad and common occurrence.

Because car accidents are so common, they’re plausible in fiction. I say plausible but I hesitate to say believable because, while car accidents are possible for our fictional characters, believability depends on the context. Used well, a car accident can contribute to some larger theme; used poorly, it becomes a deus ex machina, dropped into the story because the author couldn’t think of something better.

This issue came up during a discussion of a workshop member’s story. In the story, the protagonist dies in a car accident. Workshop participants had mixed feelings about this scene. Some felt the accident packed an emotional…