Coincidences. Are you using them in your story?

From Guest Blogger Stephanie Heijkoop| Your job as a writer is to enthrall the reader so much that they forget that you’re pulling the strings. You want to draw them into your world as if it is really happening.

Unfortunately, when your story is riddled with coincidences, the reader is likely to stop and wonder if it’s all worth it, not to mention the strain your causing them from all the eye rolling they’re likely to be doing. Does the protagonist or supporting character always seem to find the right person at the right time, who happens to have the exact item he's looking for? What about the hero who overhears conversations that reveal the information he needs? Or the uncle who had died and left your character a whopping some of dosh, so that he – your character – can go on that road trip after all, and hunt down the one that got away.

As a writer myself, it’s my job to practice what I preach, and as a beta reader, it’s my job to point these mistakes out, so here are some of the danger spots you need to watch for, as well as some tips for including coincidences and get away with it:

Just a coincidence?

We all love a great coincidence story like the time a wiry man was strolling past a building. Birdsong, sunshine and the weekend on his mind, when all of a sudden a baby falls from the sky. The man catches the tiny flying human and a year later, the event repeats itself. Same man, same baby, on sunny morning. It turns out that the mother kept leaving the window open to the baby's room, on the nineteenth floor of a modern apartment building; the type of building that seems to pierce the sky. Lucky baby. But in your fiction story, coincidences often make a writer seem lazy and unimaginative.
Coincidences used to solve a crucial plot problem is not accepted. They’re also called “yeah right,” and “how convenient.” For example:

The character needs to hire a hitman, and the cousin’s wife so happens to be related to one. “Yeah right.”
Frank needs a job otherwise he’ll lose his car, his house and his dignity. He also needs to update his insurance policy. Upon his visit to the insurance office, he is offered a job. Hoorah! “How convenient.”

The writer thinks these events are casual and random, but the reader thinks it’s too contrived, not to mention there’s no obstacles in the way. No conflict. No fun.

More than one “yeah right,” or “how convenient,” and the reader will likely put your book aside and never speak to it again, or, with lack of better things to do, continues reading in the hopes that a truck will spin off course and crash into his living-room, giving him an excuse to close the book.

Of course, you want to have your protagonist at the right place at the right time, as long as it’s made to look credible.

When help arrives too quickly.

Characters shouldn’t reach their goals too easily, which is why we introduce obstacles. Rachel is taken hostage in her own home, and the abductor, her old next door neighbour. Mrs. Tilbury, has decided that she’s bored with her mundane life and wants to experiment with a career in serial abduction. The readers are on the edge of their seats now, hearts in their mouths, house on fire and they haven’t noticed. But if a police car just happened to be driving past, and look into the living-room window where Mrs.Tilbury has a butter knife held to Rachel’s throat, the readers will likely feel cheated because you’ve gone and teased them with the promise of a more exciting situation, unless of course, Mrs. Tilbury is the main character, which then makes the police officer the obstacle, and not the “how convenient.”

The best way to use a coincidence:

Try your darndest to make it a surprise.
Have the character fail and fail once more, then slip in the coincidence.
Use the coincidence – up the obstacles.
Have the character recognise it as an unlikely but lucky coincidence and be as surprised as your reader is.
The character acts in a way that causes the coincident to happen.
Have the coincidence further complicate the plot

Creating an original, entertaining and exciting plot and subplot, is hard work, but that doesn’t mean you should settle for the easy option when writing your novel. on the contrary, if it’s hard to come up with something that doesn’t evolve “yeah right,” then push yourself as a writer that much harder. Force yourself to be innovative because if you do you will undoubtedly create something much more engaging and satisfying for your readers.


About the Author

Stephanie Heijkoop is a writer, amongst other things, from Perth, Western Australia. I see myself constantly perfecting the art of fiction and love to share my newly discovered information with other budding writers. Apart from writing and working as a science nurse, I love travel and adventure.
Find out more about Stephanie on her website: http://Mindchalk.com.

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