God from a Coincidence

Are you quick to dismiss coincidences as just random meaningless blips in the universe, or are you the kind of person who believes that everything happens for a reason?

I’m not sure why I asked that question, because when you’re a writer, your real-life take on coincidence doesn’t matter. The sad truth is that when you write, you can’t rely on coincidences to save your writing. The reality is that making fictional events happen by coincidence will weaken your story and make your readers roll their eyes and possibly even throw the book across the room in frustration.

It’s the same with movies or plays or any other kind of fiction. Your grand coincidence may be the deus ex machina that destroys your story while appearing to save it.

I don’t know how many of you have seen The Secret of NIMH (1982), but it’s one of my favorite movies of all time, despite the supposedly huge deus ex machina at the end. Our main character, Mrs. Brisby, was given a mysterious red amulet earlier in the film, and some critics argue that the power within the amulet that allowed Mrs. Brisby to move her cinder block house to save her children was a deus ex machina in that the character herself did not solve her conflict by her own power. The film’s director stated that the amulet was a symbol for Mrs. Brisby’s own inner strength and thus served as an extension of that power when her physical strength would not save her. So perhaps it’s not as big of a coincidence as it initially appears to be.

The moral of the story is that when using coincidental events in your writing, you have to be extremely careful to avoid anything that’s overly contrived. I read somewhere that one coincidence per story is plenty, but I personally think that just one coincidence can make a story fall apart. So I would avoid coincidences and deus ex machina altogether.

4 thoughts on “God from a Coincidence

  1. For the same reason I prefer European movies, which are less likely to have contrived, feel good endings that you can generally figure out from the first scenes of the film. Although using box office receipts as a measure, i am in the minority.

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  2. “The sad truth is that when you write, you can’t rely on coincidences to save your writing.”

    Very true. This is why some movies with preposterous plots start with a card saying “This is based on a true story.” (Or my favorite, American Hustle, which starts “Some of this actually happened.” 🙂 )

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