Coincidences in Fiction: What You’re Doing Wrong

Coincidences in Fiction: What You’re Doing Wrong

Coincidences are awesome. In real life. But coincidences in fiction? Unfortunately, the same rules don’t apply. In fact, a poor use of coincidences in your story can make or break your readers’ ability to suspend their disbelief and enjoy your plot.

In real life, coincidences are (usually) cool. They’re inexplicable, seeming freaks of destiny that tickle our brains with their mystery. When the teller at the bank turns out to be the little neighbor girl you played with as a kid or when you find the perfect outfit at a garage sale or when a flat tire delays you enough to keep you out of a seven-car pileup on the Interstate–those are all awesomesauce. Our brains delight in the impossible happenstance of it all. It’s like a fairy gift: all the niftier because it’s unexpected and unexplained.

But here’s the thing about coincidences in fiction: readers are expecting a gift and they want it to be explained.

We believe in the crazy things that happen in real life, simply because we have no choice: there’s the proof right there in front of us. We have to believe it. It happened! It’s real!

Fiction, however, ain’t real, and we all know it. When the author lets fall a coincidence right out of the sky, readers instinctively reject it. They know this isn’t a true coincidence. In fact, it’s totally explicable: the author caused it to happen because he was too lazy to think of anything better.

Not quite the reaction you’re going for your in the fiction? Me either. Today let’s tackle the causes and remedies for coincidences.

Are Bad Coincidences Killing Your Story’s Cause and Effect?

Coincidences in fiction make readers mad. Got it. But why do they make readers mad? Why don’t readers believe in them?

Simply because coincidences are, by their very nature, a violation of cause and effect. A coincidence is something that happens for no obvious reason. No reason means no cause. Basically, we’re getting an effect out of the blue. Usually, this effect is something positive for the character and, as a result, something neither the character nor the author has earned.

Secrets of Story Well Told William C MartellEven just one ripple in your story’s progression of cause and effect can throw your entire plot off kilter. In his book Secrets of Story: Well Told, screenwriter William C. Martell likened cause and effect to a game of tennis, in which the protagonist and antagonist bat the conflict back and forth between them. As he points out, even the metaphor of a back-and-forth tennis game falls apart when the author tries to introduce a coincidence:

Here’s where plotting often breaks down in bad scripts–after the initial “serve” the protagonist or antagonist quit playing for a while, and the ball bounces back and forth on its own. That’s impossible, and we know it. Or, the ball is hit to some other player on some other court; and even if the ball is hit back to our court and our protagonist, it isn’t really part of the game, is it? When something (good or bad) happens without reason, it seems impossible. It’s that ball bouncing back on its own. Or, the protagonist swings his racquet and misses, but the ball hits a bird flying over the court and goes back to the antagonist’s side of the net. That just doesn’t seem within the rules!  We want the ball to bounce back and forth between the antagonist and protagonist–the Hero and Villain–each reacting to what the other has done.

Zelda

This kind of intricate cause and effect should be true on every level of your story, but nowhere more so than in the major revelations and plot turns. Consider yours carefully. What is causing these moments to happen? Is it the protagonist who is causing the antagonist to move–and vice versa? Or are side events wiggling in to push the story forward?

If the latter has happened, you need to stop and consider which of the following two possibilities are responsible:

 1. You’re not taking advantage of the existing back-and-forth conflict between protagonist and antagonist.

2. The conflict between the protagonist and antagonist wasn’t strong enough to begin with, so you’ve tried to substitute with a side conflict.

Neither will put you on the path to a seamless plot.

Is There Ever Such a Thing as Good Coincidences in Fiction?

Before we get too carried away with our coincidence bashing, let’s take a second to consider whether it’s true all coincidences are bad.

Short answer: no.

Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats famously recorded one of Pixar’s “22 Rules of Storytelling” as:

Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

At some point in almost every story, there is going to be something coincidental that kicks off the plot. What is it that first brings the protagonist and antagonist into opposition? Often, it’s a coincidence:

  • Roger Thornhill accidentally hailing the page boy who is looking for a government agent in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.
  • Harvey Cheyne falling into the ocean and being rescued by fisherman Manuel who just happened to be there in Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous.
  • Katniss’s sister Prim just happening to be drawn as a tribute in her first eligible year in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games.

Hunger Games Tribute

  • D’Artagnan just happening to insult Athos, Porthos, and Aramis on his first day in town in Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.
  • Flik (speaking of Pixar) catching just the end of the circus bugs’ Robin Hood act and believing they’re really warriors in A Bug’s Life.

All of these things just happen. Although there’s some causal dominoes leading the protagonists up to a few of these examples, there’s not enough cause in play here to let any of these moments avoid being coincidences.

And yet they still work. Why? Because they only make things harder–and more interesting–for the characters. You’ll also note these major coincidences are pretty much the only major unexplained coincidences in their stories. It’s not on Pixar’s list, but we could add to their above rule:

Only one major coincidence per story: early in the story.

4 Ways to Sidestep Coincidences in Fiction

Now that we know coincidences in fiction are baaaaad news, how do we stomp them when we see them coming? Here are four ways.

1. Set Up Proper Cause and Effect

As you’ve already figured out, this is the big gun in your war on coincidences. A story that is set up with proper cause and effect is a story that doesn’t need coincidences. What does cause and effect look like?

  • First, Darth Vader invades Princess Leia’s ship in search of the Death Star plans.
  • Then the droids crashland on Tatooine to escape him–which, coincidentally, turns out to be the home of Vader’s unwitting son (except–aha!–it’s not actually a coincidence, since Leia was above Tatooine on purpose, looking for Obi-Wan, who is also on Tatooine on purpose to watch over Luke. The only real coincidence at play here is Luke’s uncle just happening to buy the droids).
  • Then the stormtroopers come looking for the droids and torch Luke’s aunt and uncle.
  • Then Luke goes with Obi-Wan to find Leia.
  • Then the Death Star captures them.
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.

It’s a dance–a tennis match–back and forth. The Empire makes a move, which provokes Luke into making a move, which causes the Empire to make a counter-move. No coincidences necessary.

2. Embed Coincidences in Character Motivation

Your character causes something to happen because he’s in pursuit of a goal. He’s in pursuit of that goal in the first place because something is motivating him. In short, the character’s motivation is the reason for the effect. If readers understand what your character wants and why, they will be more likely to forgive what might otherwise seem coincidental behavior.

Darth Vader suddenly going rogue and pitching the Emperor into the heart of the Death Star, in order to save a dying Luke, might seem a little coincidental on its surface. It might even seem like that most egregious coincidence of all: deus ex machina. But it’s not, because it is, in fact, an evolution of Vader’s personal development and motivation over the course of the trilogy. When he chooses Luke over Palpatine in the end, it makes sense.

Vader kills the Emperor Star Wars Return of the Jedi

If it makes sense, it’s not a coincidence.

3. Foreshadow Coincidences

Now, it’s time for a caveat and an admission: as much as you want to avoid coincidences in your story, you probably won’t be able to cut out 100% of them. Stories–especially novel-length ones–are unwieldy beasts at the best of times. Even the most skilled authors rarely get all the loose threads perfectly tied away (just ask Charles Dickens, who was a master of the coincidence). Sometimes, you’re just plain going to need to sneak in a little coincidence, in order to get the story to work.

When that happens, you need to do your best to make the pill an easy one (yea, preferably an unnoticeable one) for readers to swallow. One way to do that is by foreshadowing the coincidental element earlier in the story. Even if the plot development doesn’t properly result from natural cause and effect, at least it won’t catch readers completely off guard.

4. Explain Away Coincidences

You can also do a little mopping up after the fact. After the necessary coincidence has taken place, don’t just ignore it. Sometimes having your characters acknowledge the coincidence in passing–or offer their explanation for what just happened, as we often do in real life in the wake of a coincidence–can help scratch the little niggle of doubt in your readers’ brains. Being upfront with readers keeps you from looking like idiot (Wow, did she really not even realize she wrote that coincidence?), and with a little luck and a lot of skill, you might even be able to explain away half the problem by the time you’re done.

Once you understand why coincidences in fiction happen–and when it’s okay and when it’s not–you can use your awareness to protect readers from ever tripping into gaping plot holes or suspense-of-disbelief pitfalls.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What coincidences in fiction can you think of that worked–and what coincidences drove you nuts as a reader or viewer? Tell me in the comments!

Coincidences in Fiction: What You’re Doing Wrong

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K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. In my current WIP, I opened with a coincidence. Beta readers accepted it; in fact, they loved the opening (and I mean they really, really really loved it!) The beta readers were several regulars and 18 writers on YouWriteOn, where, if readers like the material, you get a chance to have your work reviewed by an editor from Random House or Orion. I was in line to get such a review, i.e., #1 on the charts.

    The opening scene is a trial scene, and my two US legal advisors (I’m a retired Canadian lawyer but Canadian procedure is slightly different), one of whom is a small publisher, accepted the coincidence, and the small publisher even asked me to submit the final manuscript when I finished it.

    BUT one of my editors hated it, said what happened would not happen in real life (truth is often too strange for fiction), and said that major publishers wouldn’t accept it.

    I–very reluctantly–agreed.

    So I pulled my YWO submission before it went to an editor’s desk because I have great hopes for this particular novel, and you only get one kick at the can.

    Unfortunately, eliminating the coincidence forced me to re-plot the entire novel. Grrr! But in the course of re-plotting, I discovered that my antagonist was really a contagonist, and I couldn’t make her into a villain because of who she is (she’s a character in the first novel in the series), so I came up with a new antagonist, and the novel will be stronger as a result. When it’s ready, I’ll put it back up on YWO.

    As for other stories where coincidences have bothered me? I can’t think of any. Mostly, my criticism of other stories often relates to the ending, e.g., John Grisham’s THE PARTNER, where the ending wasn’t foreshadowed, or GONE GIRL, where the ending wasn’t sufficiently justified, in my opinion. Have you done a post about endings?

    Things that bother me as a lawyer are gross inaccuracies in the law, frequently found in movies, e.g., in THE VERDICT, where the big law firm sends six junior lawyers out in the middle of the trial to research cases, and they come back with a case that every lawyer learns about in their first year tort law course. I still liked the movie, however.

    Anyway, back to the topic of coincidences. I suppose a lesson to be learned from my experience is that we should seek out our coincidences and revise, because the project will be stronger as a result.

  2. I remember in my school days, when we had to review Thomas “Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd”, I said I thought there were too many coincidences. But now I would maintain it’s coincidences that change the daily grind into a story. Your very own Jane Eyre is another classic example.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Funny, I was just thinking of Jane Eyre in reading an earlier comment to this post. You’re right: Jane is fraught with coincidences, particularly her happening to stumble upon the home of her unknown cousins in the Third Act. Frankly, it’s poor storytelling at that point, but we overlook it because it’s a comparatively minor detail within the overall scope of the story.

  3. As if on cue, I found the strong way of using coincidence in the book I am reading.
    Mistborn, there Vin coincidentally lounges at the exact spot where Elend likes to read. And thus begin their romantic relationship, but near the end, the exact event is used to confuse Elend and find out about Vin’s shady character.
    I adored the way it was foreshadowed from the beginning, and was able to appreciate it more since this post was still fresh on my mind. 😀
    P.S I also adored how strong this book’s second pinch point was. 😀
    Seems like I have found another fav author (whose name I first learned from this very blog)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I admit I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Sanderson. I feel he gets far too self-indulgent in later books. But Mistborn is my favorite.

  4. I like some coincidences when they are part of a story’s vision for the workings of providence in the characters’ lives. But that kind of conscious decision is surely very hard to pull off, and it is pretty much the opposite of just making something happen because it would conveniently tie up the story.

    And, as with so many things, subtlety matters. Subtle glimpses of God’s providence running throughout the story (for example, the unstated way this is done in The Lord of the Rings) are much more powerful to me than a spectacular coincidence that wraps everything up, probably because the little glimpses draw my attention to the workings of grace in everyday life that are so easy to miss at the time.

    One of my major beliefs is that the smallest things matter if they are done in God’s grace, and stories about grand heroic deeds can be amazing when they remind us that actually, usually hidden to us, all of our lives have this grand heroic quality.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Nicely said. And I agree: subtlety is awesome. It’s the grease in the complicated machinery of a story.

    • June Sullivan says:

      Amen.

    • Joe Long says:

      I believe what Katie is saying here is that the Inciting Event is the expected coincidence, that takes an existing setting and backstory and sparks a new direction. After that, every thing is action-reaction, constructing a web out from that original incitement.

      This mirrors my work in coding databases and has come easily for me. I’ll play devil’s advocate and ask myself, “Does this make sense?” If I think the readers will question something, I have the characters question it.

      There is one time I violate that. I talk to myself a lot, sometimes answering in conversation or argument. I use that with my MC. In one spot he’s mentally yelling at himself in the midst of an emotional crisis. Then I add a statement, in his head, that is out of character, and the MC’s response shows that he recognizes that.

      ‘Me, me, me! When am I going to change?’

      ‘Hope.’

      ‘What do you mean – hope? Look at me, I’m pitiful – and since when do you care anyway?’

      ‘True hope is for that which is unseen.’

      I don’t explain it in the story, but it has happened to me. The out of character voice inside my head wasn’t mine. It was God telling me something I needed to hear.

  5. I’m currently struggling with coincidences, and how far I can go with them. My problem is that I need to have a brother and sister reunited, but I need a coincidence to get them together since they’d be meeting as slaves on a different planet from where they were separated.
    Oh, and if you want a “real life is stranger than fictions story” we know a guy who had a flight layover in Turkey. While he was there, he met a friend from Alaska who he hadn’t seen in years who just happened to be in Istanbul at the same time. If that had been fiction, fans would have thought it was too much of a coincidence.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If the brother-and-sister-meeting coincidence is the one that kicks off your plot (at the Inciting Event or First Plot Point), you’re probably safe. If it’s deeper in the story, you at least need solid reasons why both characters *happen* to end up in the same place, even if it’s no one’s intention to actually have them meet. Their meeting isn’t so much of a coincidence as long as there are individual good reasons for them both being there at the same time.

    • June Sullivan says:

      This may be way too easy, but could the reason they meet up on that planet be because it’s a planet where a good deal of the work requires slaves; also the slavers might group together slaves taken from the same area believing that homogeneous groups are more content with their lot (easier to manage) than heterogeneous groups. Too simple?

  6. Loved this post! I remember that in my novel I needed two characters to meet, but I wanted to keep it from looking like a big coincidence, since their meeting was something major. So what did I do? Foreshadowing. Once I had them both going to the same place for different reasons it doesn´t sound that much of a coincidence as before :p

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Foreshadowing is a massively useful tool. It does so much for us in so many ways–but covering our rear ends in situations like this is one of the biggest.

  7. Steve Mathisen says:

    Brilliantly explained. Thanks!

  8. My antagonist, just after doing his most evil deed yet and just before enslaving the damsel in distress, dies of a heart attack at a party. But … was it really a heart attack? Was it a drug overdose? Or was he poisoned–by one of his many victims or by some sympathetic soul or even by the MC?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      A little mystery is good–as long as the readers have more reason than not to believe in the *non*-coincidental solution.

  9. Not being a big fan of plotting, I’ve had to go back and foreshadow during the revision process a few times. The idea of a pedigree nation, for example, had to be that of a female activist who convinces my novel’s main character (who has the Youth Gene) that he is essential to the pedigree movement. Otherwise, he would be viewed by readers as a sexist patriarch instead of a reluctant accomplice. Motivations matter. Again, cause and effect.

  10. A.P. Lambert says:

    Depending on the story, I think coincidences can also point to something larger at work.
    I think of the Wheel of Time series and how the ta’veren natures of the main characters constantly lead to unusual coincidences. But it made sense in that world.

    There are a few coincidences that happen in my current story, but I think they serve the purposes of the theme and point to an ultimate meaning behind what may at first appear as random events.
    All that to say, I think coincidences can be used but must be handled with care and should make sense within the narrative.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The key words in what you just said are “it made sense.” If it makes sense–for whatever reason–it totally works.

  11. I am an aspiring author and find your writings so helpful. After each time I read something you’ve written I look back at my manuscript and make changes Thanks so much for all your helpful ideas.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Awesome to hear you’re finding the posts useful! I wish you all the best with your writing. 🙂

  12. I’ve used coincidence. In one work, the protagonist is betrothed in an arranged marriage. She’s never seen the man she’s engaged to; her grandmother and his father made the arrangements when she was younger.

    When she leaves home on the adventure, she’s supposed to be looking for him, but doesn’t know precisely where he’s stationed. In the meantime she’s dealing with the main quest. She finally finds him at the end, in charge of the fortress where the climatic battle takes place. I think this follows rules 1,2, and 3 because long before then I establish: 1) He’s a military officer, 2) he’s leading a detachment in a that general region, 3) she meets him at the end of an ongoing mission to take down a set of bad guys, one of whom is in that region. Not only that, but I remind readers the fiance exists shortly before he appears when the protagonist makes it clear to someone else that he can’t court her because she’s engaged.

    By the time she meets her fiance readers would likely have expected them to meet at that point. It would have been a Chekov’s gun that failed to fire if they hadn’t. She’s surprised to see him (mainly because she had so much on her mind that she forgot about looking for him), but readers shouldn’t be.

    I would love to write providential coincidences as mentioned above, but I don’t think I’d trust myself to do them well.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      One thing to note about providential coincidences is that they technically aren’t coincidences (since Providence is engineering them for a reason). Still, they can be difficult to do well, since readers are rarely “in on” the providential reasons.

      • This is a great point. And a heavy-handed attempt to show the workings of Providence could inadvertently make the opposite of the point the story trying to make — if it makes real life seem random and pointless in comparison, which of course it isn’t.

  13. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

    I’ve never seen it myself, actually.

  14. Loved this. It reminds me of ‘sensitive dependency on initial conditions’ (or Chaos Theory to the likes of me). As the previous poster Evelyn put it, subtlety is a vital component. In Chaos Theory, even a minute influence can create cataclysmic changes down the line…

    (As always) I enjoyed your Star Wars example, and yes the only true coincidence was Uncle Owen happened to buy the droids. Although, of course, there was the opportunity to destroy the droid’s escape pod right at the beginning – that would have halted the whole series (and saved us from Jar Jar Binks!)

    Thank you for an excellent post and all the work you do.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s true. The movie probably would have been that much stronger if they’d just deleted the scene with the Imperials’ deciding not to shoot the escape pod. My dad used to say, every time we watched that scene, that there’s no way those guys wouldn’t have blown it up just for the target practice!

      • We’ll probably disagree on the escape pod scene.

        In escape pod:
        C3PO: “Are you sure this thing is safe?”
        R2D2: Beeping response that seems to satisfy C3PO.

        Cut to Imperial Cruiser
        Imperial One Anxious (K.M.’s Dad): “There goes another one!”
        Imperial Two (Supervisor): “Hold your fire. There’s no life forms aboard. It must have short-circuited.”

        Is this a bad coincidence? I never thought the scene was out of place until I read your comment, so it forced me to go look at it again. My first observation is that your dad’s reaction seemed to be the same that Imperial One guy had: “There’s another one!” and it took an override by someone with more authority not to shoot it. Here is why I think the scene makes story sense:

        1) It tells us why Princess Leia couldn’t have escaped on a pod (the Empire has the ability to scan ships for life forms–she’d be killed);
        2) It tells us why she had to put the information inside R2D2 (not a life form);
        3) R2D2’s response intimates that he knows standard procedure, and that it is safe to escape as judged by C3PO’s response (R2D2 seems to know a lot of technical stuff);
        4) Did someone go around and jettison other pods as a ruse to allow R2D2 to have a chance?
        5) It foreshadows the extreme danger later on when the gang in the Millennium Falcon gets in the tractor beam of the Death Star; we’ve already learned they can scan ships, and it affirms the shiftiness of Hans Solo that he has shielded cargo holds below the deck.

        Fun discussion. As a tribute to your dad, this is how long the Star Wars movie would have been if he had had his way:

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Ah, these are all really good observations! At the end of the day, whether or not this scene works is an extremely small niggle. But everything you’re saying here *does* make sense.

  15. Thanks, K.M. Your observation to have the coincidence happen early is a terrific one. I always felt that in JK Rowling’s second book–if I remember correctly, where the hat shows up and glint of the the sword are there at the end were too much for me, and I would put it in the category of a bad coincidence. It spoiled the book for me since because it seemed too random, unrealistic (yes, even in a magic book) for me. Most of all, I felt the concept was underdeveloped prior to that in the story, where JK Rowling had not foreshadowed it well enough for me.

    The Pixar gem on coincidence was a great reminder: “Coincidences that get characters in trouble are great; coincidences that get them out of it are cheating.” So for me the coincidence of the hat showing up to get Harry out of trouble along with the idea you share here, K.M., that it happened at the end of the book left me with an unsatisfying ending to an otherwise enchanting book. Thanks for your insights here.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Good example. The phoenix was foreshadowed some, but I barely even remember how the sword was hinted at (in the movie anyway).

  16. Speaking of Deus Ex…
    I have a sort of “Saved by the Cavalry” climax. Of course, the person doing the saving is expected to come back some time that evening, and from the comments of my (as yet still singular) Beta reader I did a good job hinting that he might be more badass than he appears, but of course his coming back just in time to Save the Day (rather than half an hour earlier or later) IS a coincidence. Yet having him already there would definitely mean a loss of tension and spoil the BOO-YEAH moment of total badassery at the climax… Thoughts?

    • Could he predict his own arrival? Think Gandalf in the Two Towers, when he said to look to the east (or west, whatever) at dawn. Gandalf went to find the calvary when he makes this promise, and when things get bleak you forget that he did that. Until he shows up with the Rohirrim where and when he said he would. We learn that it always pays to count on Gandalf.

      Could your Mr. Awesome have agreed to be at the climax scene in the first place? In “Hackers,” they plan a Hacking Against the Evil Corporation Extravaganza, but certain hackers haven’t “arrived” at the expected time. Just when the others think they might be defeated, the no-show hackers suddenly “appear” and ask, “Are we fashionably late?” It provides a moment of comic relief when things are tense. We see the late hackers are rogues, but they will come through when needed.

      If readers were wondering if Mr. Awesome could be trusted, his timely appearance could settle the question. If they wanted to like him but weren’t sure if they should, they might be relieved to see him when he shows up, like we are with Han.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        I have to agree with S.J. (below). The protag needs to be the one to cause the culmination of the climax. It’s fine to bring in another character to help, but only if that character (or element) has played a decisive role in the story previously. Otherwise, it’s a loose end introduced too late.

  17. Ouch! About the cavalry.

    In my opinion, the protag must contribute in a big way (close to 100%) to getting out of his black hole, although if the protagonist must overcome obstacles to getting the right help, then that might work. Barely.

    • Well, Mr. Awesome (love that name!) IS expected back sometime that evening. And he is the protagonist – just not the MC (there was a post on that some time ago.) The MC (and POV character) is just holding her own against the foe, though there is a SLIGHT chance she could get out of it alone.
      As a matter of fact, JAMIE, there are some trust issues prior to this scene. I had orignally planned to have the MC and the protagonist ease into friendship at this point in the book and battle the big bad boss demon together, until it occured to me just how delicious it would be if Mr. Awesome should fall under suspicion of being responsible for the demon-summonings, breaking down the budding trust between him and the MC.

  18. KL–the demands of holiday this-and-that prevent me from reading the comments, so I may be repeating what others have said. If so, please forgive.
    The operative word in your post is POOR use of coincidence. Anyone reading your beautifully annotated edition of Jane Eyre can easily see how dependent the story is on coincidence. Thomas Hardy could not have been Thomas Hardy without making use of coincidence. In defending Hardy’s use of the device, one critic noted that coincidence is a literary way of compressing and accelerating the action. Clumsily used, it’s a disaster. But then that’s true of most literary devices–right?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “Coincidence is a literary way of compressing and accelerating the action. Clumsily used, it’s a disaster.” That pretty much sums it up–and well said!

  19. My “coinkydinks” happen to be the main antagonist’s doing, as he has several people possessed and their actions line up for a reason. It’s revealed slighly after this starts happenening

  20. This is a great blog entry and it hits on a topic brought up from time to time in the critique group I attend; we usually refer to it as something that is too easy or too convenient, but I think the term coincidence is more fitting.

    While I can’t think of any coincidences that drive me crazy, I do believe the first three Indiana Jones movies have a fun way of playing with coincidences, in that the main protagonist, Indiana Jones, often faces what seem like happy coincidences, right up until he discovers how they just lead to yet another problem. This usage of coincidences I believe is what gives these movies their charm.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This fits right into another subject I hope to cover soon: the progression of a scene from one mood or idea to an opposite one. The author sets up one angle, but the scene must always progress in unexpected direction in order to avoid being on the nose.

  21. Oh! I just thought of a coincidence that worked in a movie. In “Silence of the Lambs”, the Senator’s daughter helps “lotion man” move his couch into the back of his van. On the one hand, it’s cringeworthy because it echo’s every slasher movie that yells at the protagonist to not enter the door made of human bones. But it’s forgivable on a number of levels. One, it benefits the villain, two, in that day and age (the 90’s) it’s not a far cry from what one may have actually done. Nowadays, fuhgeddaboudit! No way am I getting in the back of your van and you can take your lotion and that basket and shove it!

  22. After reading this blog post, I was despondent. I had a MAJOR coincidence in the middle of the story and I thought that I had no way to get rid of it. Alas, after weeks of pondering and praying about it, I removed the coincidence and my story flows much better already. Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Awesome! It’s amazing to me how the story blocks we often think are surmountable are often cured relatively easily for the betterment of the story.

  23. Rachel Griffin-Morken says:

    Looking for a Writer.
    I have experienced numerous coincidences to be a coincidence! Anyone who’s interested in writing my story?

    I’ve told some of my story to others & they said I should write a book. Since then, I had an extreme amount of unbelievable events – mostly unlawful acts committed against me & my Dependents! No One’s willing to help from the Govt’s Staffs & their Collaborators. They’re the ones who did the most damages by keeping the Funds to remove Toxins in our home! Due to the negligence by the Ins. Co! And, when reported to the commissioner of D.O.C, DHS, DHHS & Others, they qualified me for the multiple Grants & Housing Rehab Funds, which none of the projects were implemented! Hence, we had to breathe these Toxins for many years! Effected since ’92, Jan/’03 – when Ins Co didn’t complete the Clean-up job from the Frozen water pipe that broke in January made my 80% Finished Bsmt into a Lake for over 1 week+! Ins Co kept charging for the Finished Bsmt when they’d knew it was gutted due to mold, fungicide, Lead Dust & Asbestos…and more. Grants were kept by the State Leaders, even the Settlement for the Wrongfully foreclosed Homeowners! And, They’re doing everything to discredit me. Entries into their systems with Slander & false & inaccurate info!

    Many coincidence that have occurred…Too many to be a coincidence! It’s beyond belief! I have evidence of these & their unlawful acts.

    I’m looking for someone to help me write my story. I will compensate 50% of my net Settlement & profits. Please let anyone else know who may be willing to help me. Thank you.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Source: Coincidences in Fiction: What You’re Doing Wrong – Helping Writers Become Authors […]

  2. […] K.M. Weiland talks about coincidences in your fiction and what mistake in means you might be making. […]

  3. […] dark and, if so, why they didn’t lend us their torch. So here’s the thing; despite the difficulty of writing even small, fairly likely coincidences into the plot of your fiction and pulling it off, huge ones happen all the time. Those writers who […]

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