RHYS BOWEN: Do you read online reviews? I know I shouldn't, but I do. And then I'm miffed if someone says something snippy about my books, especially when I feel it's unjustified. This happened to me the other day when I read a review of Murphy's Law, which is now an eleven year old book, which said the plot relied on coincidence. Apart from the fact that this book won four awards, the only coincidence in the story is that the false name my character is using becomes a prime suspect in a murder on Ellis Island.
We're often told that coincidences are a no-no in writing, and I agree that we can't use coincidence to solve major plot points. However I'm always amazed how often coincidences happen in real life. Amazing coincidences. Here are a couple from my own experience:
My daughter goes to Europe. She happens to be in Germany, looking at the Brandenburg Gate when she hears a voice behind her that she recognizes. She turns around and there is my good friend's mother. Neither knew the other would be in Europe.
Or how about this. We go to Ashland to the Shakespeare festival. We're waiting in line to get to our seats when we are tapped on the shoulder and our next door neighbors are standing there. What's more they have seats next to ours.
Or this. I'm in e-mail correspondence with a person who runs a book review site. We are getting along well and become chatty. Where do you live? She asks. In California. So do I. Where abouts? Just outside San Francisco. So do I. Where. San Rafael. So do I. We're neighbors.
And at Left Coast Crime two weeks ago I had to interview Guest of Honor Jacqueline Winspear. I started by quoting all we had in common: grew up in Kent, worked in London, moved to California, married someone called John, write about feisty young women in 1930s England, live five miles apart. Talk about about coincidence!
So my real life seems to abound with coincidences, but I'm not allowed to put them into books. Is that fair?
How about you? Can you remember any amazing coincidences in your life? Do you feel you are allowed to bring coincidence into your stories? And readers, does it annoy you when we do?
HALLIE : Rhys, you do live a charmed life! And yes, I allow myself ONE coincidence in a book, and it's got to be in the first act.
I do remember once we were camping in Shenandoah National Park and one of my husband's college students came walking out of the woods. Very unexpected. We ran into Another one of his students on the beach in Tangiers. Those Curry College students -- they do get around.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We go to the grocery store. There is ..oh, gosh, I can't remember, but someone Jonathan went to law school with. Random, random. They just happened to be there. Couple days later, we're there again, and the person is there AGAIN. I literally said to Jonathan: If I put this in a book, no one would buy it.
At a convention in Florida a few weeks ago, Sleuthfest, a person came up to me and said: are you from Indianapolis? I said--yes, that's where I grew up. Long back and forth ensues, which I will spare you but it was hilarious and adorable. The upshot: she is the cousin of my first husband's first wife. Now I ask you--in a book--would you believe that?
LUCY BURDETTE: No I would not! And Hallie certainly wouldn't...Writing about three different amateur sleuths over the years, I am always struggling with coincidences. Why in the world would one food critic find two bodies in succession? I would freak out if I found even one...but figuring out another way to introduce the main conflict and draw the character into the mystery is not that easy. Sigh...I'm going to be working on this today so if anyone comes up with a good idea, please send it on!
Of course not--you'd say-aw, that could never happen. And yet...
JAN BROGAN- My husband and I went to a wedding in San Franscisco a few years back, and who was playing the piano for the band? My high school flame. From New Jersey. I had been absolutely crazy about him, but he was lukewarm. The band did this really cool thing where they came around at cocktail hour and you got to sing a cappella with them. I wound up having a great time singing with his bandmates. They started heckling him, the way guys do, refusing to believe I'd ever "waste my time" going out with him. It was perfect. Later he even apologized for the way he had treated me (leading me on, mostly) It was a female fantasy come true!
I kept thinking it was like an opening to a movie it was so bizarrely coincidental. Which I think goes to Hallie's point. You can have a co-ocidence in the first act - in fact, most first acts probably DO have some coincidence to get the story rolling. You just can't resolve the story with a co-incidence.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: The most bizarre thing I can think of in real life? A couple of years ago we were invited to a 4th of July party by friends, held in an airplane hanger in a Dallas suburb that has one of the biggest fireworks shows in the country. We sat out on the runway to watch the show and it was a great party, but afterwards the traffic was so terrible that a group of us stood around in the parking lot, visiting, until we thought it might actually be possible to drive. A guy asked me if I wanted to share a seat on his beer cooler. I said, "Sure," and sat down. And in that instant we really looked at each other and simultaneously said, "Oh, my God."
It was my first really serious boyfriend. I was madly in love with him when I was fifteen and sixteen, and he dumped me for my best friend. I hadn't seen him in more than thirty years.
It turns out it was not that bizarre. He was a mutual friend of the friends who invited us to the party, but I didn't know that. (Did I still hold a grudge, you may ask? Not really. Still like him? He aged well:-))
In fiction, I'm always trying to write around coincidences. You can't make them as obvious as the ones that happen in real life, so I think the key is misdirection. Or at least I hope so, as I have more than Hallie's one in the WIP...
So dear friends who are readers--does it annoy you when you come across a coincidence in our books?