1. JosephMarch
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    JosephMarch Active Member

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    Is a coincidence or 'small world' a cop - out?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by JosephMarch, Apr 13, 2014.

    My story spans twenty years and ends with a reunion between people who thought they'd lost each other forever. I've written other stories with the same sort of theme, but this one is a novel.

    They find each other in a coincidental way, though. It isn't magic, just their paths happen to cross again, through mutual people. That does sometimes happen in life, right?

    If it is a cop - out, I will have to rework how they end up back together. I don't want them to consciously seek each other out.
     
  2. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    No. People underestimate the power of coincidence all the time. They misattribute its commonplace nature to metaphysical synchronicity.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Not sure why it would be a cop out. Just for the record, I have run into people from my past in the most unusual circumstances years later. It does happen.

    I lived in Steamboat Springs for about a year. Many years later I met some people in Seattle and went to their house in a small town outside Mt Rainer National Park. It was an acapella social gathering and while I don't sing, they let me jangle the tambourine in a reasonable beat to feel involved.

    Anyway, to my shock, in walks a guy I knew in Colorado and had not seen since I left. None of the people in the house had any connection to Colorado. It was just a coincidence the guy had moved to that town. He was working at the park.

    I also ran into a high school friend a decade after high school in a restaurant in another state from where we'd gone to school.

    My son ended up in college living down the street from a house I had lived in decades earlier in Bellingham. It was long before he was born, and I didn't go to college there, I just ended up there because I liked the town.
     
  4. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    These things happen.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The entire premise of Les Miserables is based on coincidence (if that makes you feel any better).

    To answer your question more explicitly, yes, coincidences like the one you mention happen in life.
     
  6. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Unless you believe that everything has a purpose, then everything is a coincidence. Can you imagine the number of coincidences it took for you to get here to post your message?
     
  7. Acanthophis
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    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

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    I would say it's only a cop out if you abuse. Once or twice is okay, but if it's popping up every other paragraph than that's bad.

    Not necessarily. Coincidence is often just a lack of proper information.
     
  8. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Well, I was more referring to the life in general. It also applies to writing, but writing usually has a smaller scope, which makes it more noticeable.
     
  9. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Last week we were on a family holiday to Portugal and I ran into someone I used to work with. I think it classes as coincidence to randomly meet someone you know while abroad.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i've had numerous 'unbelievable' chance meetings, so yes, it's realistic... but it's not a good idea for you to do it in more than one [or a couple at most] of your stories, unless you're doing a short story collection based on the phenomenon... which could be a nifty read!
     
  11. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    Most people aren't going to read everything written by you at one time, so if all your stories have this in them it won't make much difference. The practice might make you better at writing those kinds of stories and that will open up more places for those stories to appear, making it more unlikely that people will be chancing on your similar stories one after the other. Provided there's no big coincidences.
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I read somewhere once, in a piece of writing advice (can't remember the source) that it's fine to BEGIN a story with a coincidence, but it's a bad idea to end it with one. This has nothing to do with real life, and everything to do with what people expect from a story.

    The 'deus ex machina' ending, of which this is a variant, is not popular any more. Readers like cause and effect when it comes to story resolution.

    If your main character just happens to run into an old friend on the street at the START of the story, setting the story's events in motion, that seems to work well. However, if they run into the old friend at the END of the story, and this chance meeting solves all the story's problems, then it doesn't work so well.

    Of course it's possible, I suppose, to stretch this a bit. It's just that an ending full of coincidence is not an easy thing to make plausible in a piece of fiction.

    In your case, @JosephMarch, I'd say make the reunion a possibility throughout your story. Maybe make friends and other people take part, trying to bring the two people back together. Make it LOOK like coincidence to the lovers, but make it clear to the reader that it's not. Or follow each character through their separate lives, leading up to the chance meeting ...so the reader sees it's not chance at all, but fate taking a hand. This kind of thing has been done before. (The short story The Bridge Over San Luis Rey is a great example.)

    You can throw all sorts of things into the mix to make it exciting. But just having the main character looking everywhere for 'love' and then suddenly running into the person he/she has always loved—the end ...not really a great story. Although it would be fantastic if it happened in real life!
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2014
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  13. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    As is Casablanca.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Aye, but Casablanca's main story BEGINS with the coincidence. The two ex-lovers' chance meeting doesn't finish the main story arc, it starts it.
     
  15. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    True, but what the OP describes doesn't qualify as Deus Ex Machina either. It's not something that solves the problem, it's just a chance reunion. So, not a cop-out, I'd say.
     
  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well I did say 'Deus Ex Machina' is a variant of coincidence. And I stick with that. Having 'god' suddenly step into a conflict and sort it all out is certainly seen by today's readers as coincidence. It doesn't flow naturally from events, but just brings everything to a screeching halt.

    The OP said:
    I still maintain this is coincidence potentially 'solving' a problem.

    However, if the coincidence is not random from the reader's point of view, it can work beautifully. The characters might well be 'surprised' by the meeting, but the readers should not be.

    You see this all the time in books, movies, etc. The audience knows what's going on, and what might be about to happen, but the characters don't. That builds excitement. You're actually WAITING for that moment, for the two long lost lovers to finally get together. (Think the Tom Hanks movie You've Got Mail, for example, since we're dealing in movies here. Or the other in that stable, Sleepless in Seattle. Both these movies build towards what could appear to be a coincidental meeting, but the audience knows it's not.)

    It doesn't really have anything to do with what happens, it's how it's presented to the reader.

    If all the story problems get wrapped up neatly by an unexpected coincidence, I think readers can be left feeling flat. The key word here is 'unexpected.' If the reader doesn't forsee the coincidence, then they can be left feeling cheated. The old schtick, where the penniless hero turns out (ta-da!) to be the long-lost son of a king, so he can marry the princess after all—after building up story problems around the impossibility of a princess marrying a commoner—doesn't work so well any more.
     
  17. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    Only if the problem was the two couldn't find each other. If the main problem of the story was an apocalypse, then an internment camp would bring higher odds of the two finding each other.

    That's the definition of Deus Ex Machina. It's not just coincidence, it's an unforeseen coincidence that solves the story's problems. We don't know what is the OP's overall story problem. If it is the two people separated and suddenly by chance finding each other, I'd say yes, it's DEM and is a cop-out.
     
  18. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    If the mutual friends that bring them together are shown throughout the book as connected, it won't seem like a coincidence.
     
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  19. Who
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    The only time coincidence is to be considered cheating is if the solution to a fictional problem is solved by chance and not by anything the protagonists do. Although this does occasionally work to some degree; The War of the Worlds, for instance, ends with the aliens being defeated by the nature of the Earth rather than anything the protagonists do.

    Anyway, of course chance meetings occur and are used fairly frequently in fiction because of that. There are seven billion people on the planet. Given enough time, people who know each other will meet up by chance.

    Even if the chances are seven billion to one, it will happen at least once.
     
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  20. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    This is a good point. How well this reunion works at the end of the story really depends on what the reunion
    achieves.

    If your MC desperately needs to find a flute, an otter and a telescope to save the world, and he happens to chance upon a childhood friend who has now gone into the flute, otter and telescope business, then I don't think readers will be impressed with your story. If, however, it's after the resolution and is sort of an "extra happy-ending", like in the Dark Knight Rises (best example I could think of), then I see no problems.
     
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  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I wish I had said that! That's what I meant ...but your method of saying it made me laugh. :)
     
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  22. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    All you have to do is reverse it to make it more believable. The main character runs into a friend, finds out he's in the flute, otter, and telescope business. Then, later the main character realizes she needs those items to save the world.
     

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