by Peggy Bechko
Coincidence can truly be crap.
When you’re writing…whatever you’re writing.
Yes, yes, I know it’s cool when that long lost wedding ring turns up in the gullet of a fish a fisherman just caught…and it’s his wife’s wedding ring.
It’s amazing when you’re in a grocery store and someone calls your name and it turns out to be someone you knew in high school who, for some unfathomable reason, actually remembers and recognizes you.
It’s fantastic when a person messes up enough to miss a flight…which goes down over the Atlantic with few survivors.
That stuff happens of course. It makes us happy when it does. Inexplicable. Delightful. Wonderful.
So startling. But when writing a script or novel? Not so much. A coincidence can act as an escape hatch just because you, the writer, got lazy and didn’t do the set-up and pay off that are the hallmarks of a great story.
And, in fact, if you throw coincidences in to short cut your story you can even destroy that fabulous suspension of disbelieve which allows readers and movie goers to get into the story.
The simple truth is, in everyday life a coincidence is accepted – mainly because it’s right there in front of our faces and it can’t be denied.
But fiction isn’t real life. So when the writer uses a coincidence in a story it had better be good and for a darn good reason because fiction isn’t the real world and every movie buff and novel reader knows it.
It’s not inexplicable like a real coincidence. It is, in fact, totally explainable. The writer, you, created it, launched it and expected everyone to believe it.
They won’t. In fact, they won’t even like you because they’ll see you as that lazy writer I mentioned above.
Think about it.
A coincidence is something that happens for no discernible reason. Writers create worlds which are driven by cause and effect. In this case there would be no cause. When a writer uses coincidence and there isn’t a REALLY good plot reason, there’s just effect. And it’s not even dropping out of the sky. Nope, it’s what the writer created.
And, let’s face it, it’s usually utilized to create something good for whatever character experiences it. It could snatch him from the jaws of disaster or suddenly jerk him out of poverty into wealth. It’s sort of like some of the old westerns (I wrote some of those and I didn’t use this kind of coincidence!) where the good guys are surrounded – it looks grim – oh, look, here comes the cavalry!
See why it turns viewer and reader off? It’s not something the character has worked his way into successfully; it’s just mana from heaven. And that small thing can throw your entire story into the dust bin.
Don’t use coincidence in your story line unless you have a very strong reason and coincidence itself is somehow a part of your plot. Don’t take the easy way out. Go for the arc and the twist. Let the organics of your story surprise the viewer/reader and create something really original.
Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page