Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Coincidence? I think not.

‘Coincidence’ is one of those plotting tools used in basically every storyline ever told – Those instances where things just kinda ‘happen’? 

The guy the MC has her eye on just ‘happens’ to sit next to her in class. 

The antagonist just ‘happens’ to be at the right place at the right time and discover exactly the secret the MC is trying hide.

Other times the character’s motivation and actions are trying to promote one outcome when ‘coincidence’ has things going in a completely different direction.

Like when a bunch of human-blood-drinking vampires ‘just happen’ to show up to a family baseball game and then ‘just happen’ to decide to chase after the mortal MC because she smells good.

And then there’s that ‘funny coincidence’, like in the commercial below. ( funniest commercial I think I’ve ever seen)



The difficulty with coincidence is that for the writer, nothing happens by accident.  Everything the characters do and say and every turn their lives take has been pre-plotted in order to help our story play out.

 The hard part is making things seem natural and plausible without being obvious about where it’s all going.  The last thing you want is a reader feeling like things ‘kinda happen’ just because ‘they kinda have to’ in order to move along the plot.

So tell me, what kind of coincidences do you use or notice most in your work or books you’ve read?

25 comments:

stu said...

This is an awkward one for me. Since I'm mostly doing comedy, there is a role for the bizzare coincidence, yet I generally don't like leaving things in such a contrived state.

Miranda Hardy said...

I love pushing my character to the edge. It's as if I try to find a breaking point. There's a reason she's always in danger.

Laura Pauling said...

that was really funny! Very cute. I think the difference b/t a good writer and an excellent one is the ability to make things believable!

Sarah said...

I love the "zombie fingers" part of that commercial! Yes, I only really notice coincidences when they don't flow. They're totally necessary to some extent, but relying on them for the entire plot reeks of authorial interference. When I find myself saying, "How conveeeeeeenient ..." as I read, I know there's a problem.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I agree with Laura above! A good writer can weave together plot lines so that a coincidence almost seems inevitable, given the circumstances.

Old Kitty said...

If I don't notice the contrivances then yay for coincidences in literature and hats off to writers able to pull such things off!!

Take care
x

Tracy said...

Awesome commercial!!

Basically if the coincidence is so slight that I don't even really realize it's a coincidence, then the writer has done a good job.

For me, I work backwards. I figure out what I need to have happen and then I go back to earlier points in the story and build in little clues or character habits wherever I can that make the latter coincidence seem more natural.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Katie, i want to bugger you, you gorgeous little darlin`.

Matthew MacNish said...

Coincidences do occur in real life, so they can happen in novels, but the funny part is that sometimes I'm really surprised by what works and what doesn't. It has to flow naturally, or at least not come off looking like an obvious plot device.

April said...

This is a good post because it's something we have to think about all the time. As you said - every single thing that happens in our stories HAVE to move the characters along, so in essence, EVERYthing is a coincidence. What is that saying about if you put a gun on the nightstand, someone better use that gun?

I haven't thought about it too much in my writing, though. I'm not really sure how to answer your question, but now I am definitely adding another thing to think about during revisions!

Richard said...

My blog Amish Stories is having its first ever contest this week. The First prize winner will win 2 tickets to tour the farm where the 1985 move "Witness" staring Harrison Ford and Kelly Mcgillis was made in Strasburg,Pa . This farm is now Amish owned, and the family has given permission for folks to tour their farm. This may be the last time anyone will be able to walk and see the same things that Harrison Ford and the other actors saw during the making of "Witness". The Witness tour should last about 2.5 hours. In addition to the Witness farm tour tickets, 1st prize winner will also receive 2 tickets for Jacobs choice. There will also be a 2nd place prize, which will be 2 tickets for the Amish Homestead. Please go to My blog www.AmishStorys.com for contest details, and more information on the prizes. Richard from the Amish settlement of Lebanon county.

Anne Gallagher said...

Well, crap Katie. It never occured to me before this post. My women's fiction leads off with the biggest fattest coincidence of all -- My MC comes home for vacation for the first time in a decade and there is her ex, sitting in her uncle's diner.

Sometimes I am so dense. Really, I never thought about it like that because it actually happened to me the last time I went home. I ran into an ex. And it was a true coincidence because I hadn't seen him for almost 15 years and I was only home for 4 days and we were in Target of all places. Truth is stranger than fiction.

But it's no wonder the book got rejected.

Read my books; lose ten pounds! said...

I push them to the edge then I push them off. HA.

Carolyn Abiad said...

I just read a book with well drawn characters, but the plot was so convenient it really bugged me. It's still bugging me.

Laura Marcella said...

This is probably one of the hardest parts of writing-making scenes and events believable!

Talli Roland said...

That's a tough one. I try not to use coincidences - they usually find their way into the first draft, but then I try to eliminate them in the next few drafts.

Kelly said...

Ha ha ha! That commercial is hilarious. And I hate to say that I seriously sing like that in the car.

Kristin Rae said...

Well, I met my husband because he sat behind me in a class in college, so I'm a fan of little freak things like that, because I know that they do happen. But I can see if an entire book story was fueled along by them, it might be a little unreal.

Candyland said...

Ahaha!!! Funny enough, that video sounds exactly like something that would happen to me!!!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

You always find the coolest commercials.

I usually don't notice something is too coincidential because I'm already sucked into the plot. Or maybe I'm just too dense to notice. :D

Caitlin said...

Haha I laughed so loud at that commercial.

I think the only time that I notice a "coincidence" in a story is when it's too forced, just way too perfect, or not well-written. Otherwise, I think coincidences in novels are pretty much mandatory, but should go without being noticed.

Melody said...

Okay, so I have watched that commercial three times and have laughed out loud every single time. Thank you for brightening my day!

I don't really have too much sober comment on coincidences, except to say that they're hard. There's this line between believable and unbelievable...and it's difficult not to cross it. :)

Kate said...

Coincidences have the risk of seeming contrived. I try to avoid them at all costs. If two people meet at an airport they should both have good reasons for being there.

Elena Solodow said...

Natural and plausible are good words for it. Just finished a novel yesterday where I just didn't buy the connections the author had set up. They were just too easy.

Susan Fields said...

I try to be careful about coincidences, but I'm sure I let some slip through.

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