Coincidence is one of the most powerful tools in the hands of a writer. Be warned: a powerful tool is also a dangerous one.
Using coincidence in your storytelling can save you so much work that it easily becomes frightening. It can solve any problem, but it can also isolate you in the deepest trench of tripe.
Do you need to unite two characters? Wouldn’t it be wild if they were cousins?
How about two separate events? What if the cultural festival happened at the same time as an alien invasion? Wouldn’t that be fun?
What if a man with a desperate fear of trains rides a train the very day of a railway accident? Think of how great that would be.
Really, any time that you connect two people, or two events, to a person to a event, you are employing coincidence. Even if you are not trying to. What sense does it make that a man should inherit money from a forgotten relative?
But that is the hilarious twist of life. Think of your life. Isn’t it all a messy coincidence that makes little sense? You happened to be in the right place at the right time. You won the award, you met the right person, you stopped at the intersection in time to hear that one song on the radio.
And thank God that you did.
When I was a young(er) writer, I never used the power of coincidence. Everything I wrote had a logical progression from one event into another. Everything made sense.
It was the most boring tripe I could have written.
As I grew older (and possibly wiser) I was writing something of my usual desperate attempt, and I came into a deep plot hole. It was catastrophic. There was no escape.
And I thought, “What would be so wrong if I used a little coincidence here? Would that really be so awful?”
Long story short, I used coincidence and the world didn’t explode.
Of course, coincidence is not always a good thing.
I can safely say that everyone has read a story (or has written one) where a coincidence has taken too great of a leap. It jumps past the limits of being believable.
Grates against the soul, doesn’t it? Don’t do that.
But don’t be scared.
Play with your story. Make the events fun, and the characters incredulous. Above all else, make a story that you would be happy to read, and are happy to write.
This is a long way to say that I don’t think you need to be afraid of using a little coincidence for your storytelling. It can make your story whimsical, and have that ridiculous ring of truth.
Funny how those two things go together. -BW