Years ago, my parents visited my uncle on an army base in D.C. Uncle was an Air Force Colonel. He had tasks to finish before he could give them a tour of the base, so he assigned a young corporal to take them for a snack while they waited. The corporal turned out to be a neighbor, who had grown up down the street from us.
More recently, my brother took a trip and ran into a cousin of ours in the airport—in Germany!
Coincidence. Happenstance. Serendipity. Whatever word you use, we see it all the time. But when we write a fictional story with coincidence, we are told it doesn’t seem realistic.
I asked a workshop instructor about this, and he said, “While coincidence does happen in real life, when we see it in fiction, it feels contrived.”
If I write about Wesley, a young Pennsylvanian, who visits relatives in the South when the Civil War breaks out, and I have Wesley join the Confederate Army with his Southern relations, can I write that Wesley is killed during the Battle of Gettysburg only a stone’s throw from his northern home?
I can write this story as non-fiction because Wesley Culp’s story is true. He died on Culp’s Hill, land named for his family. Yes, history is full of coincidence, but fiction isn’t allowed to be.
What are your feelings on coincidence in fiction? Too contrived for your taste?
Kathy Cannon Wiechman