Counter Coincidence with Logic and Foreshadowing
by Sunny Benson
When I journeyed to Europe for three weeks during the winter break of my junior year of college, I unexpectedly encountered two of my fellow classmates. My small, liberal arts college consisted of twenty-five hundred students, so how in a world of billions did I stumble upon the college newspaper editor in Notre Dame de Paris and my lab partner’s roommate on a street in London? Coincidence, the often amusing, always unanticipated collision of chance and connection, had reared its whimsical head. Although little acquainted, my classmates and I greeted each other with huge smiles and engaged in lively conversation before parting ways.
While fascinating in real life, in fiction coincidence may be perceived as lazy writing. Need the protagonist and a potential love interest to meet to advance the plot? If you don’t mind alienating the reader, no problem. Call on coincidence to do the job. Have the lovebirds unexpectedly bump into one another at the counter of a quaint little coffee shop. Then have them literally run into each other when dodging around a bushy potted plant at the florist. Finally, arrange for them to accidentally touch hands when reaching for the same cantaloupe at the supermarket. If fate thematically threads throughout a novel, a reader may be forgive such heavy use of coincidence. Otherwise, there may exist a preferable mechanism to accomplish your aims.
One way to counter coincidence is to prime the reader with a logical reason for why an event is likely to happen. For example, if two people inhabit the same general space, such as living in the same apartment complex or working in the same building, they are far more likely to meet than if they live in different neighborhoods or cities.
Another way is to apply foreshadowing. Want the protagonist’s cell phone to fail at a critical point in the story? Perhaps they have problems with the phone throughout the story, but they are too stingy to pony up the required cash to purchase a new phone. Maybe the phone was the final gift from a former lover and they can’t bear to part with it, even though it has a battery life of fifteen minutes.
Bottom line, even a little overly convenient coincidence wears on a reader. The closer to inevitable an event appears, the less likely a reader will feel cheated. Unless coincidence is a deliberate theme of your novel, use sparingly or risk estranging the reader.
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Genre – Mystery
Rating – PG13