So I'm trekking along with my WIP, and things are going pretty well. I didn't include its beginning in Karen's post the other day, because the current first line won't survive long. What's more likely is a scene now in the middle will open the novel, and the work of crafting the first sentence is yet in my future.
Well, for what it's worth, I once ran into a fellow California college student in the McDonald's in the French Quarter. (Before you are appalled at my Crescent City dining choices, let me assure you I was merely confirming the weird rumor of biscuits and gravy on the menu. It was true.) Another time I saw a man I'd met in the jungles of Belize at an airport in Phoenix. And just yesterday a guy gave me a quote to trim my photinias, and I'm pretty sure he shared my row on a flight to Dallas in 1993. Coincidences all, and while you probably don't doubt me here, would you believe these things if you read them in a novel?
Jane Austen relied on coincidence; think of the revelation of Willoughby as the scoundrel of Colonel Brandon's life, and that circumstance eventually winning Brandon the woman they both love. Snape's dark motivation through all the Harry Potters is eventually revealed to be tied to the fact that he and a fellow young witch happened to play at the same park as children; what a coincidence! (At the same time, J.K. Rowling points out that sometimes things are too convenient, like when Hermione chides Hagrid's lack of suspicion when a hooded stranger happens to possess a dragon egg, something Hagrid covets.) In Julia Glass' wonderful novel I See You Everywhere, a chance meeting, the merest of coincidences, serves as a kind of glue. (Not a spoiler, don't worry.) Did I believe all of these? You bet I did. Because the authors did their jobs, and made these fictional lives as real as my own.
So that's the trick, I guess, and something my beta-readers will be warned to be on the lookout for when they get that first chapter: Is it real? Do you believe it? If they don't, I haven't done my job well enough and revision will follow. But to leave coincidence out of a book would be like erasing it from life. And what fun would that be?
Speaking of fun, oftentimes coincidences are just that. You are probably already familiar with the Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy stuff, and how the lyrics of "Amazing Grace" fit perfectly into the Gilligan's Island theme song music. (It's even more fun to sing the Gilligan verses with the hymn's tune.) But Love Boat and Star Trek? Who knew! And what about you? Any fun coincidences in your life, or a favorite from fiction?