All the writing advice I’ve seen over the years warns against using coincidences in your stories. I’ve seen this recommendation over and over, both in the advice given, and stated by characters in novels and short stories (usually mysteries, usually police officers): “There is no such thing as a coincidence.”

Really? What kind of world are the people saying this living in? How about the time we ran into an old neighbor in a store when we were back visiting in a city? In a city of almost 400,000 people?

I’m sure everyone can remember one astonishing coincidence that happened in their lives.

So, we have established that coincidences do happen.

In writing, though, the thing is you don’t want a coincidence to occur that helps your characters. You want one to happen that causes them difficulty. That old neighbor we met in the store? We were delighted to see her. In a story, it should be a huge inconvenience, maybe even a dangerous one.

If you don’t believe me, read some old Agatha Christi novels. Almost every one of her books has a coincidence in it. And she’s the best-selling author on the planet. Even today.

Last night I was reading N OR M? by Dame Agatha. Put it down right after a big coincidence happened. It was set up properly ahead of time. Totally believable, although totally improbable. Then this morning I read that old advice about never, ever using a coincidence in a story.

If you’d prefer not to, that’s fine. But if your story leads you to a wonderful coincidence, take a chance and use it. After all, coincidences really do happen. There’s even a word for it.

(Aside—I wrote this post over a week ago—before the surprising coincidence of the Fed Ex package I wrote about on Wednesday occurred. Amazing coincidence, no?)

My advice—as always, take it or leave it. What’s your opinion about this? Have you seen coincidences done well, or badly in stories? What’s the one that happened to you that you remember best? I’d love to hear from you.


***Today is WEIRD WEDNESDAY in which I talk about unusual stuff as it happens, if it happens within the week***

Believe in the paranormal? No? How about coincidences? Don’t believe in those either? I’m very skeptical about paranormal happenings, but I’m a big, no a huge, believer in coincidences because I’ve experienced some that are absolutely extraordinary.

Monday my belief grew.

Several months ago I bought a nice photo scanner and had a lot of fun scanning old photos, sending some off to my kids, printing some out of old friends we were going to visit so they could have copies, and just enjoying the whole process. Here’s one of my grandmother and aunt.  Isn’t that neat? How about those dresses?

Yes, loads of fun until the scanner broke. Totally quit working. Light wouldn’t go on. There was no way to open it up and change the light bulb. I thought that was odd. So, I emailed the company and quickly received a response. Things progressed to where I was given directions about how to send it off for repair or replacement. It cost me over $30 to buy a box and get it packed and sent via UPS with tracking. All on me. I figured I might have just thrown away over $30.

The email said it could take up to six weeks from the time they received the scanner until I got it back. Seemed like a long time, but I kept busy with other things. Two months went by, and no scanner. I waited another couple of weeks, then called them. Hate making such calls. Not only that, I had to leave a message, which I did. Detailed everything about it—my special number, when it was sent, when it was delivered to them, who signed for it and so on.

A man called back within fifteen minutes. That was the first surprise. He told me the scanner had been sent out on the 10th of this month, and it was due to arrive the day I called or the next day by Fed Ed. I figured since the guy had a chance to check up on the status of my scanner because I left such a detailed message, he had realized it hadn’t been sent, and he was going to Fed Ex it right away, so I should receive it the next day. Until he gave me a tracking number. Hmm.

I thanked him and hung up. Went on-line. Indeed the package had been sent on the 10th and was in my city, on the truck to be delivered to my house. Astonished, I looked out the window, and there was the Fed Ed truck pulling up in front.

And yes, my scanner was inside the box. Looks to be a replacement.

Now do you believe in coincidences? Paranormal happenings? Voodoo, maybe? Sure seemed like it to me.

When I say weird, I mean weird. And it is so improbable, I could never use it in a fictional story. The reader simply would not believe it. Do you have a wonderful story about a coincidence that happened to you? Please tell us about it in the comments.