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Monday, 9 February 2015

Writing – Now there’s a coincidence!

Last night we watched two disparate movies – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban and Forever After. Yes, both fantasy, though the latter was rooted in reality, no magic in sight. We had no idea that both films featured the actor Lee Ingleby, which has to be a coincidence – ‘of all the films to see, and all the actors around’ etc etc. [Most recently he starred in the TV series Our Zoo, which was well received.]

The other day we came across Tyndale in two separate quizzes on TV (unrelated to Wolf Hall), followed later by a news report located in Tyndale Street. Of all the names, for that one to crop up three times in one night, it’s most strange… or not.

Truth is stranger than fiction, they say, and that’s often a fact. Some beginner writers will include events gleaned from their life, and though quite fantastic or hinging on remarkable coincidence, they’ll insist it’s true, it happened.

That’s the problem. In fiction, you can’t get away with slavishly writing down true coincidences. To the reader, they seem contrived. “You weren’t there!” the writer will riposte. Quite, but the fiction has to appear true – without stretching the bounds of believability in the reader’s mind.

Of course there are plenty of instances where books have been published that feature hard-to-credit coincidences. But they were published in the past. Modern readers are perhaps less forgiving, more critical when encountering these coincidences. Tarzan kept tripping over lost cities in Africa – the continent was clearly littered with them (as it is, in fact) but by the twentieth novel they began to stretch credibility. (Okay, a babe adopted by a female great ape isn’t too credible, either; but that’s the fiction, the suspension of disbelief working, but hopefully you get my point?)

There’s nothing wrong in using a coincidence in your novel – but I’d recommend that this gimmick is used sparingly, as with all similar contrivances.  In my crime fighting nun novel, Sister Rose evades being shot when a bullet intended for her ricochets off a ski she’s holding (honest!) – so, I used the word, ‘miraculously’ – since she was a nun, I thought she could be allowed one miracle; but only one.
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Other writing advice can be gleaned from my book Write a Western in 30 Days. Reviewers state that the book is useful whether you write westerns or any other genre fiction; their words, not mine.

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Ron Scheer said...

Funny what you can or can't get away with in fiction.

Nik said...

It all depends on the writer - and the reader, I guess, Ron!