Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Remarkable Concurrence of Events

A coincidence is defined as "a remarkable concurrence of events without apparent causal connection." When I lead writing workshops, I warn writers to avoid coincidences that work to the main character's advantage. A malign coincidence that makes things worse for the main character can sometimes be okay, as readers are prone to believe coincidences for the worst much more than coincidences for the better.

But recently I've been thinking about books that rely on coincidence and still work. I reread one of my favorites books, I Am David by Anne Holm (much, much better than the movie!) and it occurred to me in this rereading just how many coincidences there were in it. David's final scene could never have happened without several critical coincidences working to help him. His meeting the artist in order to acquire a vital piece of information always struck me, from my very first reading, as way too convenient. Yet the book works for me.

Right after that (a coincidence?) I read The Line by Teri Hall, and was again struck by the remarkable coincidence that, of all the "Others" Rachel might conceivably meet, she meets a boy who knows someone she has always wanted to learn more about. What are the odds? Yet, again, the book works for me.

Then it occurred to me that some critics have called the end of my own book, Counterfeit Son, a coincidence, and yet it won the Edgar Award, which means it certainly worked for the judges, and it has worked for many readers. And I remembered how I met my husband, Art - a coincidence if there ever was one, that required my coming back to work at my college bookstore years after I had graduated, his masters professor going on sabbatical during Art's last semester so that Art ended up teaching a 300 level history seminar that usually attracted 5-10 students, and Art's having made so many friends among the athletes that 100 signed up for the seminar and he came to the bookstore to order more books at just the right moment for me to see him and fall in love.

Even though fact is always stranger than fiction, and all writers know we shouldn't write anything that really happened in our lives exactly the way it happened as part of our fiction, maybe coincidences aren't all that unbelievable after all. But they certainly are remarkable.

1 comment:

  1. The best books make the coincidences look inevitable, or else the story would not have happened the way it did.
    Everything that happens is, in fact, a coincidence, because all events are "co - incident" with some other events. We can look back from anywhere in our lives and see the line-up of events that led from there to here, but every "here" has a line back to SOME "there", so the entire line could be called coincidence.
    Not as romantic, or fun, as believing that events fell into place for our particular benefit. I prefer to credit the Guardian Angel weaving our personal tapestries, when good things happen; and ascribe bad fortune to the random whirling of the Cosmic Disk.