|Wild Mountain Goats - Glacier National Park - 08/2010|
My father has always stated that he doesn't believe in coincidence. Unless, of course, it's a real coincidence. He then goes on to explain the difference between a real coincidence and an event masquerading as a coincidence. The comparison goes like this: A real coincidence is when you go to China on vacation and run into your next door neighbor--who's also on vacation (and you didn't travel together or discuss vacation plans in advance). A coincidence is not when you're on your first date with a guy and his favorite color is the same as yours.
Dad is skeptical of any type of seeming coincidence that doesn't contain an element of the bizarre--such as the vacation in China thing.
When we writers tell our stories, we need to avoid calling contrived events "coincidences." For example, what are the real chances of the the father of your secret baby returning to town ten years after he abandoned your pregnant self and stumbling upon his nine year-old son...and recognizing him immediately? And suddenly wanting to be a dad? I doubt it's happened in real life, but it's happened in fiction--and it's not a coincidence. It's baloney.
And how about the slasher movie when the hero shoots the bad guy with a single bullet? Coincidence? Yeah, right. All of us can shoot a moving target and kill it with one bullet. Then the weirdest thing happens: the hero is so sure of his marksman ability (just like we are, right?), he turns his back on the dead slasher...who then leaps from the floor, dripping blood and guts, and makes yet another attempt to kill our hero. Coincidence? I don't think so. For Pete's sake, everyone knows that if a slasher tries to kill you, emptying the gun, reloading, and emptying it again is the only real way to kill him. Cripes.
Our characters' actions have to be motivated. They have to make sense. And sometimes it's really hard to come up with sufficient motivation to write the really terrific scene that's been playing in your mind for the past three days. (Guess what I'm stuck on?)
So, here's a real coincidence in my life these days. BACKGROUND: One of my two blogging buddies in Scotland recently revealed on his blog (May Contain Nuts) that he's a tremendous fan of the author James Lee Burke. Oddly enough, JLB lives about twenty miles from where I live. I don't know JLB personally and have never met him, although he was a speaker at the Montana Festival of the Book that I attended last month. COINCIDENCE: I taught two insurance seminars today and just happened to mention to my students that my newest book, Taking the Mystery Out of Business, is being released in January. I was then asked about my "writing career" and one of my students mentioned that her next door neighbor is a writer. She's never read anything he's written, and she doesn't know if he's famous or anything, and her 11 year-old son has occasionally been hired by this writer to do yard work. Guess who this writer-neighbor is? You guessed it. James Lee Burke. Now that's a coincidence!
Guess I'm going to have to buy one of his books. Or stop by his next book signing at Fact and Fiction Books in Missoula.
Now it's YOUR turn to share a REAL coincidence. Tell all...