Your Secret Weapon Against Story Coincidences

Your Secret Weapon Against Story Coincidences

This week’s video talks about why story coincidences are a bad thing and offers three tips for avoiding them in your own books.

Video Transcript:

Coincidences may be charming enough in real life, but in fiction, they’re a fast track to wrecking your readers’ suspension of disbelief. A clever rule ofthumb is that it’s all right to use a coincidence to get your character into trouble, but never to get him out. This not only rules out deus ex machina in your endings, it also eliminates convenient appearances of characters—allies or antagonists—un-foreshadowed secrets suddenly popping out at the right moment, and even just suspiciously handy knowledge and skills on the protagonist’s part.

The thing about fiction is that it’s almost impossible to write a book without a few coincidences sneaking in. If you start out writing your story with a few key scenes in mind, you’re not likely to discover how those scenes link until you actually start writing them. And once you do start writing, you may discover that getting your characters from Scene A to Scene B in a logical, non-coincidental way is a whole lot tougher than it may seem.

So how to avoid coincidences?

1. As always, the first step isbeing aware of the pitfalls. If you recognize that something happening in your story is a coincidence, that’s a signal to step back and rethink your approach.

2. The second step is the highly non-glamorous act of applying a little elbow grease. Authors like coincidences because they’re easy. But, in avoiding them, we not only strengthen our stories, we also have the opportunity to discover revolutionary new plot developments that we may never have considered otherwise.

3. And, finally, your secret weapon against coincidences is going to before thought and foreshadowing. It’s not a coincidence if you’ve already hinted to readers that it’s going to happen. If a character is going to show up to help later on, introduce him earlier. If your protagonist needs a special set of skills to conquer the climax, show him learning those skills.

Just like that, your coincidence becomes a catalyst!

Tell me your opinion: How do you deal with coincidences?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Great post again. Where do you get the inspiration for these posts… from your novel? I ask this because it is really hard to give very useful ideas twice a week.

  2. Vlog post ideas usually come from books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen recently. When I sit down to write a post, I always run back over everything I’ve read or watched since the last post, looking for elements that were either brilliant or less-than.

  3. Most, if not all my characters, don’t believe in coincidences. Probably comes from the fact that in crime, there are none! 🙂 Still, if my heroine is going to need rescuing, I make sure it’s already obvious that the hero is expected to arrive at some point. Whether he makes it in time is what makes the scene(s) suspenseful!

  4. I needed this! I found a lot of “coincidences” happening in my novel I’m writing, but I never really considered this seriously. This post has made me rethink a lot of my scenes and encouraged me to start thinking ahead 🙂
    Thanks for giving out advice on where to find blog post ideas – I too am starting to feel a little dry in that area.

  5. I tend not to worry about coincidences, because I’ve never found a coincidence that I couldn’t go earlier in the story and create foreshadowing for. The trick is to make the foreshadowing just barely obvious enough so that 90% of readers don’t get it before the culmination comes but think that they SHOULD have gotten it once they see it.

    My wife is the type who sees all of those foreshadowing things coming 100% of the time, so if she says during beta reading that she figured it out but it wasn’t casually obvious, I know I’ve done a good job. 🙂

  6. @Liberty: You raise a good point in that coincidences are suspense killers. Readers only feel suspense or tension when they’re in the know about story factors that are already playing out.

    @Sarah: The biggest step toward overcoming mistakes in our work is simply being able to recognize them. Once we’re able to do that, more than half the battle is already won.

    @Andrew: Foreshadowing is an art unto itself. Most savvy readers recognize foreshadowing for exactly what it is and use it to figure out plot twists ahead of time. Subtlety rules the game here, as in so many other areas.

  7. I enjoyed this post as it made me think. I enjoy creating the subtle foreshadowing and waiting to see how it’s going to weave into the story further down the block.

  8. Yes, nothing beats a little organic foreshadowing. Sometimes we don’t even know quite what we’re foreshadowing when we first write the hints, and sometimes we don’t even realize until later that we were dropping hints. Amazing how our subconscious can tie everything together when we give it the chance.

  9. Well, for my first book, I made the coincidences the point: when they start piling up, the character (and certainly the reader) start wondering why so many are happening to him, and why they all seem to be pushing him down a certain path.

    That said, its also very obvious very early on that the first several coincidences are anything but — so that later, when the coincidence is less obviously something else, the reader (at least those who’ve read it) intuit from experience that this is another in the same vein as the first.

    But, this is still something to watch for unintentional slips! Also, as I begin to dive into book two.

  10. If the coincidence is intentional for some reason, it’s probably not as coincidental as it may seem. Always something think twice about, but sounds like you’ve got a handle on it.

  11. Great post again! When I’m writing out a scene I always worry if the events seem a little too obvious. To combat this I re-read what I’ve just written and add a little extra spice to make the story more mysterious.

  12. Spice and mystery never go amiss in a novel!

  13. OMG, I SO agree with the number 3 statement! As long as it is foreshadowed it is NOT a coincidence 😀 Thank you!

  14. Foreshadowing is the author’s secret weapon. In fact, we could go so far as to say that the vast majority of the book *is* foreshadowing, right on up to the climax.

  15. Yes! Because I´m tired of people critizicing coincidences without analyzing it properly! :O

Trackbacks

  1. […] coincidences and the story feels contrived and the reader feels cheated. I like the tips given at Helping Writers Become Authors and especially this one – use coincidence to get a character into trouble, but never to get them […]

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