This week’s video talks about why coincidences are a bad thing and offers three tips for avoiding them in your own stories.
Coincidences may be charming enough in real life, but in fiction, they’re a fast track to wrecking your readers’ suspension of disbelief. A clever rule of thumb is that it’s all right to use a coincidence to get your character into trouble, but never to get him out. This not only rules out deus ex machina in your endings, it also eliminates convenient appearances of characters—allies or antagonists—un-foreshadowed secrets suddenly popping out at the right moment, and even just suspiciously handy knowledge and skills on the protagonist’s part.
The thing about fiction is that it’s almost impossible to write a book without a few coincidences sneaking in. If you start out writing your story with a few key scenes in mind, you’re not likely to discover how those scenes link until you actually start writing them. And once you do start writing, you may discover that getting your characters from Scene A to Scene B in a logical, non-coincidental way is a whole lot tougher than it may seem.
So how to avoid coincidences?
1. As always, the first step is being aware of the pitfalls. If you recognize that something happening in your story is a coincidence, that’s a signal to step back and rethink your approach.
2. The second step is the highly non-glamorous act of applying a little elbow grease. Authors like coincidences because they’re easy. But, in avoiding them, we not only strengthen our stories, we also have the opportunity to discover revolutionary new plot developments that we may never have considered otherwise.
3. And, finally, your secret weapon against coincidences is going to be forethought and foreshadowing. It’s not a coincidence if you’ve already hinted to readers that it’s going to happen. If a character is going to show up to help later on, introduce him earlier. If your protagonist needs a special set of skills to conquer the climax, show him learning those skills. Just like that, your coincidence becomes a catalyst!