I believe that anything that may reasonably happen in real life may also happen in fiction. I did not just pull that belief out of thin air. It is based on a lifetime of reading. Three examples:
2) James Jarvis and Stephen Kumalo meet and become friends. (Cry, the Beloved Country.)
3) Elizabeth’s unexpected Pemberley encounter with Mr. Darcy. (Oh, you all know that book’s title.😂)
Coincidences? Certainly. Entirely plausible? Absolutely.
All of them.
I know my view is not universal. Others see the matter differently. By, uh, coincidence also, Saturday I saw this tweet:
From that editor, we are told – in no uncertain terms – what appears to be something else. The issue boils down mostly I think to a question of degree: what seems “excessive” and/or “lazy” coincidence; but what constitutes those is simply going to be a matter of opinion. Those fictional examples I note above, for instance, may certainly be said at first glance to fall within his extremely broad tweeted “categorization” of “coincidences” to avoid in writing, and yet those are in truly GREAT novels.
My (now late) uncle once told me about himself: “I can’t spell for s-it.” (It was still the age of the typewriter.) “That is what editors are for,” he had added.
An editor – mine is a retired children’s book author – is someone who catches and corrects grammar mistakes and helps cut “unnecessary” wordiness and looks to improve readability. They are not someone who re-writes major parts of your manuscript for you and thus fundamentally changes the story. There is flexibility of course and they may also offer helpful insights too: I am always willing to listen to concrete suggestions (and I have many a time) for improvements. All writers should be willing to listen.
That tweeting “editor” reminded me – again – why I find Twitter largely a waste of time in terms of serious efforts at writing discussions. The thread attracted lots of replies: some were short and/or silly, some were nodding along in “agreement,” some were offering vagaries, and/or some what seemed like “knowing” asides (for obviously those tweeters felt they were “in the know”). None of the replies, though, were clear in offering an ACTUAL example.
Two more tweets from him replying to another. First:
That one above is what got me thinking that I wanted to hear from him an example of a “coincidence” that did NOT work. He just stated there he had read those that he felt had not. And he is an editor, right?
He went on replying again vaguely to that same tweeter:
I sensed a lot of gaseousness. I find such deliberate vagueness maddening when detail is called for. I wanted him to stop beating around the bush, so I felt I had to be the one to ask him DIRECTLY:
You have read my question. His answer – many hours later – was this:
I don’t know why he even bothered to answer. Apparently I had not tweeted in English? Despite my clear request and my cited reason for it, as you see he responded evasively by tweeting just more generalities much as he had offered previously to others.
He also used a style there we hear from a student who does not know the answer but is trying to fake his way through the question and act like he knows more than he does. Indeed our US current president speaks much that way too – insinuating loftily that he knows far more than we: “…something I see constantly…” In the end he pointed to no actual fictional example – not even a “rare one” in some presumably poor, but still published, novel.
I admit I asked that question as I did, and not offered any possible published scene example myself, as something of a test for him. I wanted to try to draw out an answer from him first without him knowing from where I was coming. He had opened the discussion, after all, I thought, so I wanted him to share with us an EXAMPLE of published “coincidence” writing to avoid. And he did what I expected him to do: he ducked my UNAMBIGUOUS question and did not offer an example. So what we have there then is an editor… who did not really read my straightforward tweet, or did not understand it, or chose not to share an answer, or simply did not actually have an answer.
That useless exchange is also another example of why I will always suggest reading is the best “writing teacher” there is. Because we learn to write mostly by reading how others have written. I will continue to go with the likes of Tolstoy, Alan Paton, and Austen, and many others, for my writing guidance.
Twitter will still mostly get a pass.
Hope you are having a good day, wherever you are in our world. 🙂