Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Coincidence Happens

Rebecca Sinclair

The only difference between fiction and the truth is that fiction has to make sense. Allison Brennan

Can you use coincidence in fiction? Of course. Coincidence happens in real life the same way it happens in fiction. However, be careful! Unless you have given your characters sufficient reason to be in a certain situation or at a certain place, it simply will not work.

Why not? Is it true that life is stranger than fiction? Sometimes. However, thereĆ­s a fine line between the two; as a fiction writer, you need to know where that line is drawn.

The good news is, coincidence varies by story. No two books are the same, even if they've been given the same premise. Every story is unique. Where one author can get away with posing a coincidence in his or her story, another can write the same situation and have it read as contrived.

How do you tell the difference? Read your story aloud. Sometimes, just listening to the words as they fall off your tongue will tell you if the condition of your characters is contrived. Alternately, get someone (preferably someone gentle, especially if you're writing rough draft mode) to read the words to you. How do they sound? Are they forced? Is your rigid character trying to bend in a direction they normally wouldn't?
Hear the words. See the actions. Feel the emotions.

Are any of these strained? Are you having a difficult time getting one character into a certain position because you, the author, need the character there? It's very likely your character is trying to tell you something. Listen!

You've sweated blood to breathe life into your characters, into your story. If, suddenly, a character protests being in a certain location, at a certain time, doing a certain thing, maybe you need to listen to them. Is your character is trying to tell you the situation you want them in is not something they would normally find themselves in? Are they straining to say your words, not their own?

Again, listen to your characters, have faith in your story. Do your characters easily glide into a situation? Do they throw on circumstances with an attitude that they were born to wear them, of course they would be at certain place, at a certain time, doing a certain thing, it goes without saying. Then go ahead, take the chance, let a coincidence happen. If it makes sense, it makes sense. Period.

On the other hand, if it doesn't make sense, stop. Take a breather. It's okay to snuggle away and read someone else's hard work. All the while your mind will be working to reassess your own story. Let it wander; your subconscious will pick away at the knot of the problem and find a way to weave your situation into something that will work. (Usually in a way you didn't expect, when you least expect it.)

Coincidences happen in life, they can happen in fiction. Just make sure they are well motivated.

1 comment:

Kim Watters said...

Good morning Rebecca. Great article.I love Allison's quote-how true. I can't tell you how many times things have happened in my life that were just down right weird and would never pass the coincidence test. So yes, it all comes down to that one word we writers love and hate. Motivation. Thanks for sharing.