The Problem Of Coincidence

CoincidencesI’ve submitted my new manuscript, and am busy brainstorming new story ideas. Some have potential, and some don’t. One didn’t fly because it depended on a coincidence. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and coincidences seem to happen all the time in real life. Some people don’t believe anything occurs by chance. They put coincidence down to some sort of cosmic plan – synchronicity. Paths always cross for reasons that are more important than you think. I quite like this theory, it resonates with me.

However there’s one thing I’m absolutely convinced about – coincidences don’t work in fiction. They’re the quickest way to ruin the suspension of disbelief that all authors rely on in their readers. They’re a bit (dare I say it) like Doctor Who‘s magical sonic screwdriver – all a bit too convenient. For your information, if you’re not a mad Doctor Who fan, some functions of the sonic screwdriver are as follows:

  • sonic screwdriverTo pick locks
  • Burn and cut all kinds of substances
  • Amplify sound-waves and the power of an X-ray machine beyond its normal capacity
  • Disarm weapons and electronic
  • Intercept and conduct teleportation
  • Act as a microphone
  • Conduct medical scans
  • Remotely control the Tardis and other devices
  • Track alien life forms
  • Control the properties of atoms
  • Operate computers
  • Provide Geo-location
  • Get cash from an ATM
  • Light candles
  • Act as a mobile phone
  • Disclose and deactivate camouflage
  • Destroy Weeping Angels
  • Disarm robots
  • Scan and classify matter
  • Create an “acoustic corridor” for speaking with someone far away
  • Act as a defensive weapon
  • And last but not least, to tighten and loosen screws

CoincidencesYou see, I think that’s cheating. Along with allies or enemies appearing at just the right moment, un-foreshadowed random secrets and questionably handy skiIls possessed by the hero. Coincidences fall into the category of lazy writing – a sure sign of poor plotting. Readers roll their eyes. It’s alright to use them to get characters into trouble, but not out. Of course, it’s not a coincidence if it’s adequately foreshadowed. If a convenient character needs to appear, mention him earlier. If your hero can speak Latin, show him learning it, and for a plausible reason. This will keep the magic of pretence alive.

Congratulations to Carol Warner for winning the prize in last week’s draw. A copy of Turtle Reef and Billabong Bend will be heading your way soon! I’ll email you for your postal address.


2 thoughts on “The Problem Of Coincidence

  1. Agree completely about coincidences. There’s also the human factor to consider. We’re hardwired to /look/ for patterns even when there are none. I guess it’s a survival mechanism for the hairless ape that isn’t much good at either running or fighting. As such, we crave the order, and illusion of control, that goes with patterns. I know I do. 😀

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.