A Coincidence in a Story Can Be a Good Tactic

image by maquake

I’ve blogged on coincidences, and Steven James’s article, “What a Coincidence” (Writer’s Digest November/December 2017) hits on similar ideas. But James discusses a fresh angle.

James says that at the beginning of a story, we can capitalize on using a coincidence, because at the onset of a story readers are open to coincidences. He adds that the coincidence can be the catalyst—the inciting incident—that sends the character on his journey.

That’s exactly what happens in the opening paragraph of my work-in-progress. But I’ll still heed James’s warning that the farther the coincidence gets from the beginning it becomes more unbelievable. It’ll take work to make a reader buy a coincidence mid-story. And a coincidence at the end rarely works.

So let’s test this with an example.

1. Coincidence in the beginning

image by MabelAmber

Down and out, Dillion sits on a park bench with the hotdog he bought from a vendor. He drops the mustard packet. When he leans over to retrieve it, he spots two tightly rolled cylinders under the bench that look like their formed from crisp greenbacks. He picks them up and unrolls one of the powdery cylinders. The apparent coke-sniffing device is formed from three one-hundred dollar bills. The other cylinder is the same.

This financial boon allows Dillon to reclaim his guitar from the pawn shop and pay the entry fee for a music competition that sends him on his musical career. The story is off and running.

2. Coincidence in the middle

If the above happens in the story’s middle, the reader might think Dillion finding the money too easy to get back his guitar and enter the contest. Readers have gotten to know Dillon and want to see how he solves his money problems.

image by ArtisticOperations

It could be more believable if Dillion considers selling drugs and is meeting his first-time contact at the park bench. The contact is checking out Dillion when a cop cruiser creeps by. The contact digs into his pockets and throws the two money cylinders under the bench and flees. Dillion saunters away from the bench. When the cops stop and question him, he tells them the man had approached him about buying drugs while he was minding his own business. They search Dillion, and finding nothing, leave. He goes back for the cylinders and heads for the pawn shop.

3. Coincidence at the end.

Readers like to see some kind of growth in a main character, or at least a realization. In this case, the story ends with Dillion finding the money cylinders under the bench, and now he has a chance to enter the music world.

Readers will be unsatisfied, even if the second scenario of outsmarting cops is employed. During the whole book, readers have watched Dillion’s downfall, and those two coincidental solutions show the reader that Dillion is lucky and little more. Readers don’t see him overcome anything. The ending based on a lucky coincidence doesn’t give readers any reason to believe Dillion will make it in the music world.

How coincidences can make or ruin a story. Click to tweet.

How do you feel about coincidences cropping up in a novel?

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong

How to Use Sounds to Affect the Character and Intrigue the Reader

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Jane K. Cleland’s article, “Whisper Sweet Somethings” (Writer’s Digest February 2018) sparked two ideas about sounds I want to use in my work in progress. Here’s how I received Cleland’s suggestions.

1. Tone Down Sounds for Greater Effect

image by Prawny

I think of how melodrama is less effective than more subtle reactions. This is true for responses to sounds. Cleland says, “Strident shrieking gets noticed; calm quiet gets results.”

This example came to me:

Loud: Mother came toward me, waving scissors over her head. “You think you’re so beautiful?” she screamed. “I’ll show you! I’ll show you!”

“Please don’t!” I yelled, my heart pounding.” She grabbed a strand of my hair. I shrieked as she hacked it off.

Quiet: Her face a purplish red, Mother came at me with scissors gripped in her beefy fist, her breaths snorting through her nostrils. “I’ll show you how beautiful you are,” she said in a low, guttural voice through clamped teeth.

I stepped back, my head shrinking into my cowering shoulders and my heart freezing into a solid mass. In sneaker soles coated with glue, I rotated toward the hallway that led to my room. She grabbed a handful of my mane, and my head jerked back. A sharp pain burned my scalp. Dull scissor blades rasped as they chewed my hair.

2. Force a Response Like One From Pavlov’s Dogs

Cleland writes, “You can produce predictable responses in your readers by using Pavlovian conditioning to generate certain specific expectations.”

In addition to the reader, this made me want to create a Pavlovian reaction in my main character. My blogs on wounds and strong females characters with wounds came to mind. We can set up early in the story sounds that occurred every time the wound-creating instances happened. Then we can use the sounds later to elicit the character’s automatic response when they hear those sounds.

image by RitaE

Here’s an example in synopsis form; reactions would need to be shown not named.

When Ellen was a preteen, her live-in uncle entered her bedroom drunk on many Tuesday nights. He’d lumber in right after the train rumbled through town a block away and its whistle blew at the intersection. As soon as she’d hear the whistle, she’d start shaking and whispering prayers that he wouldn’t enter her room that night. As an adult, Ellen lives nowhere near train tracks, but on a business trip, she wakes to a train whistle and starts shaking and whispering prayers, waking up Sally, her business colleague in the other bed.

We can turn this into a positive sound event. Ellen was always afraid alone in the low-rent apartment and couldn’t sleep with the arguing outside and the pounding on nearby doors. Daddy always came home minutes after the train’s whistle blew. Once she heard him close the door and turn the lock, she felt safe and drifted off to sleep. Adult Ellen is afraid in the motel alone on her business trip. Then a train whistle sounds and she falls asleep.

How to make sounds elicit strong reactions in your stories. Click to tweet.

What sounds or lack of sounds might work in your story?

COOKING UP KISSES – has earned an Amazon #1 bestseller ribbon in two categories!

Five scrumptious e-book romance novellas, all for $0.99 or free on KindleUnlimited. Here’s the link.  Here are the blurbs:

 

 

 

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN IN A RED DRESS BY ZOE M. McCARTHY

Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains solely to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, Trigg Alderman, who barely remembers her, visits his Gram next door. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!

 

LOVE ON A DARE BY MARY MANNERS

Alana Mulvaney’s life is in a holding pattern. Consumed by day-to-day operations of the family business, Alana has no time for fun or romance. But a little fun and a whole lot of romance is just what Alana’s sisters have in mind when they learn childhood friend Donovan O’Reilly has returned to town.
Donovan O’Reilly has loved Alana Mulvaney since he moved in next door to her at the age of five. But he broke her heart when he was forced to leave town, and now that he’s returned home to Winding Ridge he has a second chance to prove himself. But is it too late to earn her trust…and her love…again?

HUMMINGBIRD KISSES BY DELIA LATHAM

Toni Littlebird believes that when she meets the man God created for her, she’ll know—and she’ll love him in that very moment.
But then Dax Hendrick roars into Hummingbird Hollow on a noisy, crippled Harley, stinking up the air and chasing away her beloved hummingbirds. One look into the intruder’s eyes and her heart sinks. He’s “The One.” She’d been right about knowing, but wrong about something far more important: She will never love this man!

HEARTS ON THE HARBOR BY ROBIN BAYNE

Cara Peyton is content with her life, her trendy Baltimore bookshop is perfect for her. But when her ex turns up to remodel the store, asking for a second chance, she’s torn and unsure about risking her heart again. Can he convince her to trust him, and God, before the job is finished?

 

 

HIS VALENTINE PROMISE BY DORA HIERS

Another Valentine’s Day and Quinn Randolph prefers to spend it with her sweet rescue lab. Who needs men and their broken promises? Especially Pierce Karson’s! Years ago, his desertion shattered her. Now he’s trying to steal the property she targeted to expand her florist shop! Pierce only wants to belong…and for Quinn to choose him. His Valentine Promise…

How Can Readers Know Information Unless I Tell Them?

image by TPHeinz

When information and explanations

interrupt,

slow the story’s pace, or

bore or frustrate readers

writers need to hear, “Much information and explanations

aren’t necessary,

shouldn’t be told through author intrusion,

can be fed in a little at a time,

can be given without head hopping, and

should be shown through actions and dialogue.

Here’s an example.

Information and Explanation Overkill

“How are you today, Todd?” CNA Cassie, her title meaning Certified Nursing Assistant, said to nursing home resident, Todd, a thirty-year-old man who’d been in Serenity Nursing Home since his car accident a month ago.

“No worse than yesterday.” Todd hoped Cassie would deliver his breakfast and leave. He didn’t feel like talking.

image by dfbailey

Todd was missing one leg below the knee and the opposite hand. After he’d seen his girlfriend enter a restaurant with his business rival, he’d texted her while driving. The rescue squad had to cut him out of his wrecked car.

Todd’s therapist would arrive soon. Danny had become his friend and watched TV with him after his shift.

CNA Cassie set his tray on his roll table, the kind all nursing home rooms had. “Todd, you need to eat more.” She’d checked with the nurse and learned he’d lost ten pounds because he ate less.

She was drawn to Todd and had enjoyed bantering with him until he’d stopped about a week ago. She’d thought he liked her more than a CNA or a friend.

She removed his comb from his bedside table drawer, but when she tried to comb his hair Todd stopped her with the arm that still had a hand.

Why’d Cassie always have to do things for him? She knew he could comb his hair with his right hand.

Cassie, downcast, but wanting to show she didn’t care he’d pushed her away, grabbed his laundry bag and left the room.

image by OpenClipart-Vectors

Analysis

  • Choose only Cassie’s point of view because the scene’s main purpose is to show Cassie’s feelings for Todd.
  • Save how Todd lost his limbs for a later scene to add suspense and boost a sagging story middle.
  • See below. I’ve deleted unnecessary information and explanations and worked other information into Cassie’s thoughts and dialogue to get the story moving.

Improved Scene

Certified Nursing Assistant Cassie carried a breakfast tray into Carl’s room and smiled. “How are you today, Carl?”

“No worse than yesterday,” Carl mumbled.

Cassie rolled her eyes. Every day for the last week, he’d been grumpier than the day before. If only Carl understood missing a hand and a leg below the knee didn’t make him a freak.

He thumbed the bed control device and raised himself to a sitting position. His arm stub nudged the TV remote aside on the roll table.

Cassie set the tray in front of him and opened his milk carton. “Your therapist is scheduled for ten.”

“Don’t you think I know that? Danny’s the only one I can stand around here.”

Cassie forced her smile to remain as she unsheathed his straw. “Try to eat more this morning.” She inserted the straw into the carton. “You need to gain your weight back.”

Carl grunted.

Why wouldn’t he look at her? In the first weeks, their banter had been fun. For a good-looking guy of thirty, he could have an enjoyable life. When Serenity Nursing Home released him, she’d gladly date him.

image by waldryao

“During my afternoon break, would you like me to wheel you around the garden?”

He stabbed a sausage link. “No.”

“I thought you enjoyed the walks. Would you go if someone else took you outside?”

He met her gaze as he bit off the end of the sausage. “It’s not you. I just prefer my own company.”

Her heartbeats fluttered. She wasn’t his problem. Maybe with time …

She glanced at his unruly dark curls. How she’d love to touch them. She removed his comb from the bedside table. “Let’s make you presentable for your own company.”

He pointed the fork at her. “Don’t. I can comb my own hair.” He directed the fork toward the door. “Just go.”

A knot formed in Cassie’s throat. No way would she let him see he’d hurt her. She grabbed his laundry bag and left.

How to handle explanations and relay information in your story. Click to tweet.

Look at one of your scenes. How did you relay information?

COOKING UP KISSES – has earned an Amazon #1 bestseller ribbon in two categories!

Five scrumptious e-book romance novellas, all for $0.99 or free on KindleUnlimited. Here’s the link.  Here are the blurbs:

 

 

 

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN IN A RED DRESS BY ZOE M. McCARTHY

Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains solely to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, Trigg Alderman, who barely remembers her, visits his Gram next door. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!

 

LOVE ON A DARE BY MARY MANNERS

Alana Mulvaney’s life is in a holding pattern. Consumed by day-to-day operations of the family business, Alana has no time for fun or romance. But a little fun and a whole lot of romance is just what Alana’s sisters have in mind when they learn childhood friend Donovan O’Reilly has returned to town.
Donovan O’Reilly has loved Alana Mulvaney since he moved in next door to her at the age of five. But he broke her heart when he was forced to leave town, and now that he’s returned home to Winding Ridge he has a second chance to prove himself. But is it too late to earn her trust…and her love…again?

HUMMINGBIRD KISSES BY DELIA LATHAM

Toni Littlebird believes that when she meets the man God created for her, she’ll know—and she’ll love him in that very moment.
But then Dax Hendrick roars into Hummingbird Hollow on a noisy, crippled Harley, stinking up the air and chasing away her beloved hummingbirds. One look into the intruder’s eyes and her heart sinks. He’s “The One.” She’d been right ab