Last June, my husband went to England to attend my son’s graduation. Turned out to be the same weekend as the Queen’s Jubilee. In September, I went to England on a long-planned birthday trip. Turned out to be the Queen’s funeral. This May, my husband and I are going on a trip to Hever Castle. (Home of Anne Boleyn. Very excited.) Turns out to be the King’s Coronation. This is either a lot of coincidences, or we just go to England a lot. Or we love our son and have a lot of bonus points. But regardless, if I were in the royal family I’d begin to worry that the Breens were stalking me.

Will Harry write about the Breen royal coincidences in his next book?

Coincidences happen. All the time. And they’re fun to read about.

For example, according to bestlifeonline, in 2014, there were two plane crashes involving Malaysian Air flights. The first was shot down over Ukraine, and the second disappeared without a trace somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Dutch cyclist Maarten de Jonge was scheduled to take both flights, but in each case, he survived because he happened to change his ticket at the last moment in order to take a cheaper flight.

The problem is that coincidences can feel like a cheap trick when you read them in a novel. Like the author couldn’t be bothered thinking about a more coherent plot. How can we work coincidence into our novel in believable ways?

3 Tips on Handling Coincidence

  1. Use coincidence at the beginning of your novel. Not at the end. Say you are a New Yorker, and you’re visiting a small town in Texas. You go to check into a motel and you see your next-door-neighbors–the ones who are married to other people–checking in. (This actually happened to my mother. She told me never to have an affair in Texas.) You might believe it at the beginning of a novel. Strange things do happen. But as a climactic scene, it might be hard to accept. Another way of putting this is, Don’t use coincidence to solve a problem

2. You are allowed one coincidence. Especially if you power through and don’t make a big deal of it. Have you ever read Flannery O’Connor’s chilling story, “The Misfit?” There’s a killer on the loose in Georgia. A family goes on a drive, their car breaks down, a man shows up. Of course. It’s the killer. I’ve heard a lot of people discuss that story and no one has ever said, “Wow, what a bizarre coincidence that that guy shows up.” It just makes sense in the world and context of that story and so you accept it. Plus, you’re so distracted by the other stuff going on that you don’t care.

3. Keep it small. Which is to say, don’t make the coincidence an important part of the plot. Say your protagonist goes to a small town and Texas and runs into her neighbors. Maybe the novel has nothing to do with infidelity, so the coincidence doesn’t matter. But it adds a small spark of delight. Gives the protagonist something to ruminate about. Reminds her that the world is full of amazing and remarkable things. Then a coincidence can work.

If you want to read further about coincidence

Coincidentally, there’s a wonderful novel on this topic called Coincidence ,by J.W. Ironmonger. It’s about a young woman whose life is devastated by a series of bizarre coincidences and comes to believe she’s going to die on Midsummer’s Day. Truly a 5 star read.

How about you? Do you use coincidence in your work? Or have you experienced any strange coincidences? Please comment and let us know.


  1. Oh wow. Yes, you really are stalking the Royal family. Fess up.

    Last night I was trying to wrangle a scene where I needed to explain why my protagonist feels terrified of the police, and although I knew why, I couldn’t put it into words. And then it came to me: “The police don’t believe in coincidences.” My character has very good and normal reasons for being where she is (when murders occur), but try explaining that to a detective :-).

    1. In real life, don’t they? Or do the police just miss the clues? The Butcher Baker serial killer was active in Anchorage when I first moved here. I heard there was a serial killer. Several exotic dancers had disappeared. The cops didn’t believe it until one escaped. They chalked the disappearances up to a highly transient population.

        1. My husband loved to describe to me how he came to solutions and what leaps of logic and detective work he used to find people who may or may not have wanted to be found. He certainly used the concept of “coincidence” to his advantage. Two people with the same last name living in the same housing block in the same year, and one of them committed a crime and is now missing? Not a coincidence, possible family member. Time for a visit.

  2. After I submitted a synopsis to my writer group, one commented that there was a lot of something going on. It happened to everyone. It wasn’t a coincidence. It was a theme. Which only goes to show that I hadn’t explained it adequately for everyone.

    Do coincidences happen in real life? I suppose so, or there wouldn’t be a term for it.

    Twenty or so years ago, I bought a new wrought iron bedframe. A few years later, I went to visit my sister, walked into her bedroom and there was my bed. We hadn’t conferred on our purchases. Coincidence? I think not. We were brought up in the same household, heavily influence by our mother’s taste.

    My wolfhounds used to strike sleeping positions symmetrically. Either both were on the couch, each facing away from the other. Or both were on the floor in parallel. Coincidence? I think not. She was devoted to him. What he did, she did.

    In a jury trial, by the third day, the jury begins to form a clothing color scheme. I suspect they, like my dogs, are aligning themselves to the dominant personality.

    But there you have it. I’m someone who sees explainable patterns.

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