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I've written a fictional story and the way my characters are coming together and forming a bond seems way too coincidental to me.

A lady lives on the first floor while her tenant, a guy, lives on the ground floor. A girl is supposed to meet that lady but, on the day of their meeting, the lady has to attend to urgent work so she leaves, without informing the girl. When the girl, who is on her way to that lady's home, calls her, she is then informed of the situation. For all the right reasons the girl has to meet her that very day and she decides that she'll wait for her outside her house. The lady then suggests that the girl can wait at her tenant's place, who is very kind. The girl is about to reach that place when she sees children playing in the house adjacent to the one she's supposed to enter. For all the right reasons, she joins the children just to know that one of them suddenly wants to go home, for he is sick. Turns out that the sick kid is the lady's child. The kid wants to go back to his house, to the tenant, as he was in-charge of the kid for the day. For all the right reasons, she is the one to take him to that guy. While waiting for the lady to come she takes care of the kid in a way that makes the guy fall for her.

Everything that has happened is kind of a coincidence but it is the turning point for all the characters to come together. The girl getting in the lady's good books and being friends with that kid. The guy seeing her take care of the kid.

I can't get past the coincidental urgency of the lady and the kid falling sick just in time to let the girl take him to his home.

Will the reader be able to digest such a big moment as a coincidence?

This is the only coincidental situation I have created in the story. No other coincidences.

Have I made a mistake in creating the situation?

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    The answer may depend on the following: what genre is your story? (Romance? Drama? Comedy?) How long is your story? (10k words, 20k words, ...) How far into this story is this turning point? (50%?, 70%?) – DrZ214 Mar 6 '17 at 7:13
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    Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't. ― Mark Twain – xDaizu Mar 6 '17 at 11:05
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    Not to compete with good answers on this page, but to add to them: I've written a fiction and the way my characters are coming together and forming a bond seems way too coincidental to me. Then it likely is (you are the first and the most important judge of your own writing), but if you are not sure, run the complete story by a critic/friend to see what they would say. I do not believe in coincidences and do not like to see them in fiction, but it is only my personal opinion. – Lew Mar 6 '17 at 18:34
  • @Lew Same here. Coincidental meetings sets me off. It's funny because our life is full of coincidences yet when I read 'chance happenings' or write them, its seems unrealistic to me. Just yesterday I had this strange coincidence which led to one thing and the other.... I was stumped at it and was smiling to myself wondering about my question. But I still can take in coincidences. I will take your suggestion. – Nikki Mar 7 '17 at 9:37
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    …actually an event, caused by circumstances we are unable to comprehend did to the lack of knowledge. As a writer you have a complete control of your imaginary world and can explain how the tree trunk got in the middle of the ocean… – Lew Mar 7 '17 at 10:08
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There's a rule... I can't recall the name, but it's a fairly common rule.

Essentially, the more accidental your reveal is, the more build-up you need not to make it a cheap deus ex machina.

To give an example, Tom Clancy's "Sum of all fears". A nuclear submarine crashes into a huge tree trunk in the middle of the ocean, suffering major damage right when a nuclear crisis is approaching its peak, and the accident serves as a major turning point. How the heck does a nuclear submarine crash into a big tree trunk in the middle of the ocean?

Well, first we start a thousand years ago as the tree seed started to grow... then, throughout several chapters we encounter lumberjacks, transport crew, the whole endeavor of bringing the enormous tree to Japan where it's to be used for a temple. We are presented with a slice of life of a less-than-competent sailor failing to attach it, then the ship in the storm, and the tree breaking free.

Another plotline through many chapters tells of the tribulations of the submarine crew, a competent captain displaced by ambitious, self-important moron through some back-scene games, and said moron making stupid errors and being a pushover, demoralizing the crew.

After so many chapters, when a stupid maneuver ordered by the captain crashes the submarine into the trunk, it comes as a perfectly acceptable incident, with all its elements explained. If anything, the consequences of the lengthy build-up seem rushed, the incident not playing a major role in the whole plot - but the long set-up made it completely acceptable!

Same here. Give a thread of build-up of the emergency situation which will demand the lady's attention, some politics and incompetence that lead up to her needing to be there and then. Give the kids a thread that builds up to the food poisoning, say, the kids challenging each other to eat some worms or something else they really shouldn't.

With proper build-up, any coincidences, even not very plausible, will be completely OK. Without that - the writing becomes cheap, a soap opera with little depth and deus ex machina contrivances.

  • Thankyou so much! I did create a circustance where there is a medical emergency at the hospital since the lady is a doctor she has to leave and the kid eating something which he shouldn't as it upsets his stomach but is always tempted to. Mother wasn't home he knew he could eat it. That's one of the reasons he insists on going to play eventhough he should've been with the tenant. How's that for the build up? – Nikki Mar 6 '17 at 2:34
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    @Nikki: Don't make it a random typical medical emergency. The lady is not the only doctor there. Make it a major one, say, an explosion at a local factory, injuring a hundred people. And again, don't just tell; show! Have the protagonist wake up to the sound of the explosion and fire brigade sirens, see billowing smoke over the horizon, get scraps of news etc. A major central event being the source of multiple small incidents is way nicer than just multiple separate coincidences. (and, say, tenant stays home, 'cause he would go for afternoon shift but factory's gone...) – SF. Mar 6 '17 at 7:03
  • I LOVED IT!! Thankyou so much. Now I know what went wrong. I knew I chose a right place to ask! – Nikki Mar 6 '17 at 9:35
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There is nothing wrong with serendipity in a story. Our lives are like that anyway, governed largely by chance. What matters in a story is the moral arc of the characters. What chance occurrences should not do is resolve the moral arc of a story. Practical problems are usually caused by chance and are often resolved by chance. But emotional and moral problems should not be.

For example, if you are basing your character's arc on their ingenuity, then, while you may by chance make the raw material available to them (as in every episode of the A-Team or MacGyver ever) they have to assemble them using their ingenuity.

Chance can create the character's problem. Chance can bring characters together. Chance can provide the means for the character to resolve the situation, as long as they still have to pay a cost commensurate with their moral arc in order to create the solution. The one thing that chance cannot do is to complete the resolution without the character paying a cost for it.

I just rewatched the final episode of BTVS last night and none of the planning and disposition of forces for the assault on the hellmouth makes the slightest bit of sense. Why send Anya and Andrew off to guard one of the exists by themselves? Why wait until The potential slayes are already in the hellmouth for Willow to activate them? Tactically and strategically it is completely stupid. And then there is the magical uber-vamp killing amulet that is delivered deus ex machina by Angel on the eve of battle. And why does it have to be worn by Spike in particular?

The answer to all of these questions is that each one of them sets up the circumstances for one character or another to complete their moral arc. No one gets off scot free. Everyone has to have their moment of reckoning. The things that the story does to set all that up make not the slightest bit of sense. But it doesn't matter -- or at least it does not matter much -- because it is far more important to us, say, that Anya and Spike get to perform their redemptive acts, than that there should be any logic to how those acts are set up.

In short, chance is part of life. It is the moral logic of your story that matters.

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@SF. wrote a pretty good answer which will certainly help in more situations than just this one.

So here's a few small reworks for this particular situation, reducing the amount of coincidences:

  • The lady left because of a medical emergency. She left her child in the care of her tenant, whom she trusts. He takes the child to a nearby playground.

  • The girl does need to see the lady urgently. She is told she can wait with the tenant, but when she arrives he isn't there. She waits outside.

  • A short while later, the tenant and the child return and meet the waiting girl. He is initially reluctant to let a stranger in, she even says she's fine waiting outside, but the child immediately likes the girl and this convinces them both to go inside together.

The child doesn't really need to be sick, it just needs to create the initial bridge between these two people. Unless you really need the medical aspect, the tenant could just as easily become smitten with her as she reads the child a story, maybe one she invents on the spot.

The real point is that they should bond over the child, even though it is not their own.

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You already got two really good answers, i.e. make it part of a well thought through backstory and make it so the reader really just doesn't care how they got there.

I would like to add that if the only thing you are trying to accomplish is for the guy and gall to meet and fall for each other, that can be much simpeler. If the girl is on her way to meet the lady, she could meet the tennant anyway regardless of where the lady is. They could bond over some shared interest, which is also very realistic as that is how it usually goes. The child could just be the backdrop, or an allusion to future events your guy and girl become parents. The scene where the girl takes care of the child and the guy definately falls for her could take place at some later time.

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