Coincidence?

Last night I was thinking about people I used to get the bus to school with, and in particular a boy who was a really good friend of mine.  Today I saw him for the first time in years. 


Life's full of coincidences like that.

But how often can you rely on coincidences in your story? Personally, I say tread carefully - relying on a coincidence for major plot development could read as lazy writing.  An MC noticing something seemingly tiny that actually solves the entire book's problem could leave a reader feeling cheated.  Say you've built up to an epic conclusion but your character suddenly finds herself stuck... until she overhears an apparently random conversation between two strangers that triggers an essential "eureka!" moment.

That being said, my experience today could be the starting point of an interesting story...

Hmm...

How do you feel about coincidences? Can they be used as major plot points? Are they better suited to minor developments? Or should they be kept out of all stories?

Comments

  1. I've heard some good advice on this, actually: coincidences are great when they get your character into trouble, but terrible if they get your character out of trouble.

    Seems like a good rule of thumb to me. :)

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  2. I think I pretty much agree with you on this--use sparingly or else readers will feel cheated. In real life, coincidences are kind of neat, make you stop and think. In our reading material, not so much. They reek a little too much of deus ex machina, you know?

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    1. Yes, exactly. And there is nothing more frustrating than deus ex machina. For me, it reads like the author wrote themselves into a corner and had no other way out.

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  3. That's a perfect response by E. Maree! I love the idea that a coincidence might land you in all sorts of trouble, but you're the one who has to work hard to get out of it.

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  4. Excellent reminder, and I really like E.Maree's quote too.

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  5. I can imagine pantsers run into this quite a lot. The best approach, I think, is controlling your story at those places and not letting your story control you. If the event seems contrived or just way too convenient, you have the power to change it.

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    1. I did in my NaNo project last year, which has made editing quite the chore!

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