Monday, July 7, 2014

The Pros Give Us Some Advice and How to Use Coincidence in Fiction

Last month I asked a few writer friends who have some excellent books out if they'd be interested in appearing on my blog. Eight responded and sent me their latest book, their tagline and a short piece of advice they wanted to pass on. So I'll be featuring one of these amazing writers each week.


Buy it now on AMAZON or B&N


To kick off the series is CHERYL RAINFIELD. Her newest book is STAINED, and does it sound like a must read. I really loved her cover and these words: "Sometimes YOU have to be your own hero."

Tagline: Sarah is abducted and must find a way to rescue herself.

Her Advice: Write what you love and what you want to read. Write about things you care deeply about; your work will have more passion and readers will feel it. And read as much as you can, especially in the genre you write in.


Thanks, Cheryl. 


******

About Coincidence. 


I found myself grappling with the issue of coincidence when I started writing middle grade fantasy. I'd never had to think about it before and that was because I avoided it. At least I tried. Then I found an old article by Nancy Kress and thought it might be helpful to others who also try to avoid this taboo in their plots.

Here's what she suggested. Coincidence can be effective in 3 specific situations:

  • When it sets up a plot complication, but doesn't resolve it.


So let's see what that means. Let's say your character "accidentally" bumps into her ex-whatever and finds him once again irresistible. From then on, the story can be about their reconciliation or their attempted reconciliation and failure--whatever direction you want your story to take. The chance meeting doesn't occur at the end when you're trying to wrap up the story and their meeting will give you a perfect ending. 


No Reality Here

  • When the story is comedy and you're not trying to set up reality. 


I had in mind You've Got Mail when I read this. How coincidental could that online meeting between a small bookstore owner and the large F O X conglomerate be? And then keeping the secret was a great tension builder throughout the story. 

  • When you're trying to make the point that life is more "mysterious and unpredictable" than people can imagine.


Ms. Kress says this is the most sophisticated use of coincidence and she uses her own short story to show how it could be done. Her character has nothing but a series of coincidences. He chokes on food, but while he's choking his car's struck and the force dislodges the particle in his throat. These "miracles" continue throughout the story, baffling the character and pushing the reader's ability to suspend disbelief.  Her suggestion is to be sure the character remains REAL even while the unreal events occur. 

Hope you'll stop by Cheryl Rainfield's blog and say hi. Check out her book. She has lots to say in every one of them. And how about coincidence? What's your take on using it?

I'll leave you with this today: "Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded." 





79 comments:

  1. Smart advice, Cheryl. I wrote what I wanted to read and with the values I wanted to see in a story.
    Coincidences at the end of the story just make it feel contrived and forced.

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    1. And so disappointing, right? Especially when the book has been good up to that point.

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    2. I'm glad to hear it, Alex. (smiling at you)
      Lee had great advice on coincidences in writing. :)

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  2. Like a series of misfortunate events, those coincidences could be funny.

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    1. Right. The absurd always has a place and it makes us laugh.

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  3. I LOVE Cheryl's cover! Great advice from her, too.

    My critique partner called me out on coincidences. I used them too much! I have to be careful not to use them to solve problems.

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    1. Congrats on having good crit partners. Those coincidences can be hard to spot when you're writing the story--personal experience.

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    2. Thanks, Julie! (smiling at you) Good critique partners help SO much!

      And thank you Lee for having me on your blog today.

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  4. I agree with Cheryl. Writing what you love really allows you to let go and let the story flow from your fingers to the once-blank-screen.

    And the use of coincidence as a plot device is a smart and interesting technique.

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    1. Good morning, Angela. Hate that blank screen.

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    2. It does for me too, Angela. (smiling at you) And I think readers can feel the difference.

      Lee has great advice on coincidences. :)

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  5. Great advice! I THINK I only have one coincidence in my book, but it moves the story forward in a big way and the narrator recognizes it as some sort of act of fate. So I hope it works and doesn't make the readers roll their eyes...

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  6. Interesting idea. In a sense, a lot of stories have some grounding in coincidence. EG a boy-meets-girl story. They just "happen" to meet, unless they're set up by friends.

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    1. I keep wondering how much of life is coincidence. :-)

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  7. Hey Celebrity author and quite the pro amongst pros, Lee,

    You can stop twiddling your thumbs. For yes I have arrived. Yay and gosh!

    Excellent notation from Cheryl. Oh yeah write what you love or love what you write. Or heck, just make love not war,

    It was no coincidence I visited your must-read site. Because, it's a must-read site.

    I, on the very rare occasion, accidentally have the shadow of my ex wife darken my doorway. You can tell she's crazy about me. Or just crazy. Perhaps, in the coincidence of her accidentally darkening my doorway, she will finally give me closure over what happened all those years ago. Then again, more like closure of y door she accidentally darkened, perhaps. Yes, I'm rambling and that's no a coincidence.

    As usual, your posts make me think and the help of those who get to guest on here.

    Your starstuckest fan,

    Gary

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    1. Ex wives are never coincidences. They're like the tide, they just keep turning up because of their nature. :-) Continue rambling. It's joy to read.

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    2. More like a flood, methinks. I've been known to ramble inanely and start talking about all sorts of weird stuff. I might even leave an incoherent, disjointed comment that has absolutely nothing to do with the post. This could set a trend. Nah, loads already leaving comments on blogs that have absolutely nothing to do with the post.

      Great post! Thanks for sharing! Following!

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    3. Well, let's just say that you're refreshing. I like that word and it beats the #!@%% out of "Great Post" etc.

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  8. Thanks for a thoughtful and inspiring post, Lee!

    Yvonne

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    1. Saw your book in the bookstore! That's always so exciting to see a crit partners work on the shelves.

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  9. Congrats to Cheryl and so agree with her advice. And thanks for the tips on how to use coincidences effectively.

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    1. Hope it was helpful. I liked finding it while I was working on Alligators.

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  10. Love Cheryl's cover and her book sounds fantastic. Great idea to share these each week! Also, your parting thought hit home with me unfortunately!

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    1. Cheryl's a super writer and great person. I was pleased to have her here today.

      I've been struck by that thought at the end, too. :-(

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    2. Aw, thank you Julie; I'm glad you like the look and sound of STAINED. (smiling) And Lee, Thank you so much for your kind words. :)

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  11. This is a great idea for a series. I can always use good advice. :) Ah, the mind, it truly can be a battlefield, can't it? One of my more recent goals is to be more mindful of what I'm thinking. Then I can redirect things along a better path. Wishing Cheryl all the best!

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    1. I love that idea of being more mindful. Our thoughts are who we are and how we view the world. They are uber important.

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    2. Thanks, Karen. :) And I agree--it's so easy to battle things out in our minds (and hearts) when we deserve compassion....

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  12. Good advice and a coincidence well-planted that isn't pivotal to the plot is fine.

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    1. I've had coincidence in life situations that I know I can't possibly use in a book. Nobody would buy it!

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  13. What an excellent post. I never really thought about how to use coincidences in my own writing. It made me think of a book I'm reading right now called Zebra Forest, which has a huge coincidence in it. Sometimes they can teeter on plot holes, can't they?

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    1. I'd like to see that. I'm always interested in how authors handle this. Thanks, Theresa.

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  14. I like the short little pieces of advice. I always worry about using coincidence.

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    1. I like them, too, Susan. I think we're all on the same page, but it's nice to read what other authors have to say.

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  15. Coincidence is a tricky thing in writing. I can't be unbelievable.

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    1. It's interesting how we'll tolerate some coincidences, but not others. That's why I thought Nancy Cress's article was so interesting. I think she has some of the issues nailed down.

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  16. Hi, Cheryl, great advice. I have a plot point in one of my short stories (that I'm working on for an anthology) that uses coincidence and life and death.

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    1. Wow. Then this was a good post. Hope Nancy's ideas were helpful.

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  17. me likes coincidence in omnibus movies in which you have many different stories connected by some strange coincidence

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    1. Ah, yes. When all the pieces somehow knit together in the end.

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  18. Fantastic post. I've never thought too much on coincidence in my own writing, but I've used it.

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  19. Great advice from Cheryl.
    I think I've used coincidence in my writing a few times, but can't currently recall if I meant to or if it was a coincidence! teehee.

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  20. Honestly, I've never thought about coincidence. If I've used it, it was a coincidence. :( I know, that's awful. Seriously, this is a great article and something to consider. Congratulations to Cheryl on your book. An interesting idea.

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    1. Thank you, Beverly. :) I drew on my own trauma and abuse experience to write STAINED. And Lee gave us a lot to think about, wise writer that she is.

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  21. Very thought provoking. Thank you, Lee and Cheryl.

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  22. I love Cheryl's advice and I'm passing the link to this post on to a few writer friends. Great advice. C. Lee, you always offer something great on your blog. Thanks.
    Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

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    1. I'm glad you're passing on the link. :) Lee has a great blog!

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  23. Very interesting points! Coincidence is a tough one, and I've seen stories where it's done quite well, and...not so well. These examples are great, and make a lot of sense.

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    1. Nancy's examples helped me when I was setting up some very coincidental moments.

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  24. Hi Lee ... sometimes coincidence just ruins everything .. but thankfully it's only a story .. coincidence in real life is a little trickier ...

    But I like the look of Cheryl's Stained ... and you have to write about what you love to write about .. otherwise it all falls flat on its face ..

    Cheers and I'm going to love this series ... Hilary

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    1. Hilary, I'm glad you like the look of STAINED, and what I said about writing. Thank you. :) I love Lee's new series on writing advice, too. :) I look forward to hearing what other writers have to say.

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    2. I'm pleased you two are on board. Thanks.

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  25. Such a lovely cover!
    All the talk about coincidence, made me think of serendipity. Though the two are slightly different.
    Serendipity is more "fate" driven, I would say...

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    1. I like her cover as well. It's different and makes me want to see inside.

      Here's to fate.

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  26. Love that final quote; it's so true!!

    And Cheryl has some great advice - thanks for sharing.

    -lauren

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    1. Glad Cheryl's advice rang true for you. And thanks for the visit and the comment.

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  27. I love Chery's cover and think her advice was just perfect! I don't have coincidences in my books - or I think I don't anyway. But what if I do -- what if there are things in there that are accidentally, coincidentally a coincidence? That can't be held against me, right?

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    1. I hold nothing against anyone. That's just in case I do the same thing in the future. Very possible!

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  28. I think coincidence is great when used properly. It has to be a believable coincidence, though.

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    1. You're right. So I'm practicing. Wish me luck.

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  29. Great article. These look fun to try!

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  30. I really like that sophisticated use of coincidence in the short story. Interesting coincidence, ha ha, but a book I just read was a also about coincidence - "She is Not Invisible" by Marcus Sedgewick. It was fantastic how coincidence was worked into the plot line!

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  31. Good points about the proper use of coincidence in a story. It has to have the right blend of subtlety and surprise, so as not to come off as contrived. Cheryl's cover, and tagline are a winning combination!

    Julie

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  32. I enjoy a good, natural coincidence. I use coincidence in writing myself.

    Great advice from Cheryl. When I write something I'm passionate about, the story flows out of me.

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  33. Great advice. I struggle with how to use coincidences in fiction. I don't want things to seem suddenly too easy or too hard. I like the idea of using a coincidence to set up a story problem and then taking it a different direction from that point forward to create tension.

    And I think I love Cheryl's tagline for her novel too. :)

    Thanks for hosting, C. Lee!

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  34. I love a good coincidence, like running into an old friend at just the right moment, or being saved from a terrible fate by someone's distraction, but they should always serve a purpose and feel natural. It's annoying when a book is littered with meaningless coincidences. Doctor Zhivago has lots of these, with characters running into people who were last seen hundreds of pages ago, for no apparent reason.

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  35. Awesome. I've read books like that--where you sit back, squint at the pages and shake your head. That's usually when I put one down. Still, I love it when that kind of stuff is effectively used in a plot, where coincidence turns out to be anything but.

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  36. Thanks for sharing the tips from other professionals.

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  37. Excellent post! The first one resonated with me the most. Gotta steer clear of deus ex machina. ;)

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  38. I was taught not to have coincidence. That if the space ship breaks down there must be a reason w/in the plot. Ficiton is more complicated than real life. Dang having to make sense. lol

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  39. I don't mind coincidences. I just don't like the ones that conveniently fix things.

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  40. What an interesting post. I am okay with coincidences in books- as long as they seem to make sense. Sometimes they happen in real life- so they can be effective. Lots to think about. Thanks for sharing!

    Best of luck to Cheryl!
    ~Jess

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  41. Congrats to Cheryl! What great advice!

    I must admit I've never been too comfortable with the term coincidences. I believe things happen for a reason, even if it is strange and mysterious.

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  42. Love Nancy Kress books. She knows her stuff. I'm off to visit Cheryl's page.

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  43. I think that's a wonderful point about using coincidence to set up a situation, but not resolve it. It's using coincidences in the resolution that come across as cheating, not the use of coincidences, period.

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  44. Thanks for this, It has really got me thinking about using coincidence in writing (if at all...never have) because I often feel as though real life is so riddled with it...

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