Fiction or reality?

In early spring I attended one writer’s meeting at our local library. I was on a waiting list for a formal writing class at a writers association, and when someone was not able to continue after the first class I got a spot.  I was not able to attend any future meetings at the library, so I asked one of the librarians to pass along a message that I would not be continuing. This particular gentleman happened to be part of the group, and a writer himself.

In the last while, I have been looking for a writer’s group, and have been putting my feelers out, without any success. I remembered the writer at the library, and inquired with him. He gave my name to a writer’s group, and I attended my first meeting today!

While I was driving home, I was thinking about the series of steps that led me this group of dedicated writers. If I had not read the poster at the library, or if I had registered on time for the formal writing class then I never would have made it to the first meeting at the library, or if I had even spoken with a different librarian, I might have never found this bunch.

One of the main points the group was driving home today was consistency in cause and effect. Flashbacks must present themselves for a reason, they cannot pop in for convenience sake. Dialogue must contribute, and not be filler or exogenous. A character cannot change out of the blue because the writer needs things to be just so. And so on.

All of this led me to this question: Do you think the coincidences in everyday life have a place in literature? Or, do these just become incredulous conveniences?


22 thoughts on “Fiction or reality?

  1. I envy you your writer’s group. Sometimes I feel less than legitimate because I write in obscurity.

    Regarding your question, I would like to see more coincidences in literature, but practically, they’d be difficult to follow in the course of a story. I suppose it’s in that sense that literature falls short of reality. Literature has to tie off all the loose ends with meaning connection. Coincidence is too extraneous for a reader’s comfort.

    1. Thank you, Vanyieck. It sounds to me like you are reaching out…my cousin asked me not too long ago, if I want to sit in a dark corner and write? Similar to tikiman’s train of thought, that it is up to the individual…

      “literature falls short of reality”. I think your reasoning is perfect! Thanks for the input 🙂

  2. Hi Jennifer
    this is a really good question and something I’ve toyed with too. I was going to mention synchronicity, but I see that Linda already has. Synchronicity is actually a theme in one of my own novels. Life is full of them, yet they seem to be discredited in literature.

    1. Thank you, Sharon. I was thinking about if for exactly this reason : “Life is full of them, yet they seem to be discredited in literature.”
      Can it be, that as a reader we want a larger explanation than coincidence?

      1. “Can it be, that as a reader we want a larger explanation than coincidence?”

        I think most readers do want some larger meaning. In our everyday lives, we regularly create a narrative of events by forgetting some things that we’ve done and emphasizing others. It’s the way we create memories, order our lives, and ultimately the way we stay sane. We create meaning out of nothing, really; the events on their own don’t have meaning until we assign them some level of importance.

        None of this is to say that we can’t use coincidences in writing. But, as lawrencecz said in a comment below, how the character deals with the coincidence matters a great deal because that’s where the author is reflecting on the coincidence. Your example in real life might have been a series of coincidences (or synchronicity, as mentioned above) but it stems from something vital in you – your desire to write, your love of libraries, etc. – and became meaningful because of the way you acted upon it. The coincidences in books that bug me are those events that are only a tool for an author to get out of a tight spot and have nothing really to do with the nature of the character. Now, coincidences that help an author out of a tight spot and ultimately give more meaning to the character – these are golden!

      2. Thank you, Christina! What a wonderful response.
        I do not tend to use coincidences when I write, and I do so out of the need to create above and beyong my every day life. I like the idea that it is how a character responds to a coincidence – that it leads to character developement – I might have fun with that one. A writing challenge to self 🙂

  3. I experience many a such coincidences in both writing and in life. It’s such a beautiful thing when we reflect on it.

    There is an award awaiting for you on my blog.

  4. Coincidences are permitted but not as a means of leading the plot. Basically, you can have a coincidence…how the central character deals with the coincidence is what really matters, along with the character’s overall development throughout the story.

    The rest of the advice regarding flashbacks and dialogue sounds spot on. I think you’ll find the group really helpful.

    1. Thanks Lawrence, it is fun. It is nice to be around others (physically:) who are as passionate as I about writing!
      I find I learn just as much when I provide feedback to others, as when I receive it personally.

  5. Jennifer,
    I think I can speak for all of us when I say we’re very glad you joined our little group! As for coincidences, I believe they are the stock in trade of life…but unlike a lot of episodes in life, they don’t provide much of a crutch to writers. I think this is perhaps because we look for answers to the things that really happen to us, for links between the scenes of our lives. In real life, our brains fill in those links from our own experiences, our own personal views of life. In fiction, the reader expects those links to be filled in by the writer. It is another of those times when fiction has to be more real than real life in order to work.
    Thanks for joining us yesterday – whether through coincidence, synchronicity, fate or just plain luck…
    See you at the pool.

    1. Thank you Karen for commenting! Especially as the first live person I know to leave a comment on my blog!
      ” another of those times when fiction has to be more real than real life in order to work.” Absolutly! I think this is the crux of it!
      And whatever it was that connected us, grateful for it!

  6. Congratulations, Jennifer, in finding a critique group! I hope they will prove to be a creative source of support for you. Judging from your experience with your first meeting, it sounds like you have found a winner.


  7. Hi Jennifer, and Karen

    Jennifer, you are a breath of fresh air to our group, Editing is often sobering, but always challeging. Thank you for joining with us. I woke up today wondering what would make my life worthwhile enough to let it go, when it was time.

    Synchronicity? Yes, absolutely. It’s the stuff of Magick.
    I live by its rules. And I try to write about it, however awkwardly. A hard subject.

    Mrs McGillicuty? Now there’s an odd synchronicity.
    A throw-in for a chapter ending, though unplanned.
    It seems she is changing the course of my novel. Writers work best, I think, when they step into the flow and witness the story as it writes itself.

    1. Linda – another reall live person! 🙂
      Letting a story write itself is one of the most pleasurable experiences for me. A story knows where it has to go, and normally I just follow along. (I have had only one exception to this when a MC spoke nonsense, and I had to firmly delete where he was bringing the story, yet there was no retaliation.) 🙂

  8. Dear Jennifer,

    Oh yay for you finding a writing group–I wish you many years of writing bliss and encouragement and challenge in its midst!

    And re: “Do you think the coincidences in everyday life have a place in literature? Or, do these just become incredulous conveniences?” it will sound like a cop out answer, but it really depends on the story. I’ve read books where the most incredulous conveniences seem magical, wonderful, or more real than real and others where even the _slightest_ coincidence gets a big “Yeah, right” and yanks me out of the story. I wonder if the secret lies somehow in the author–was the coincidence innate to the story being told (thus fit naturally and smoothly) or was it to fix some plot problem or to move from point A to point B and the author couldn’t figure out another way to manage it.

    1. Thank you for the wishes, Ev! Same back to you!
      I like your answer. I am trying to think of a story where a coincidence worked – and I realize that if it worked, then I wouldn’t have noticed it…

  9. I don’t use coincidence when a write either. While it happens all the time in real life, and its interesting and unique when it does, I would worry people would consider using coincidence to help the story along as a kind of deus ex machina. Basically, “I couldn’t figure out how to rescue my character myself so here’s the cavalry come to save him.”

    I’ve been disapointed with stories with too much coincidence because it just feels like authorial cheating.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Uninvoked. I’ve been thinking about this this weekend, and I was wondering what makes a coincidence a coincidence? To use your example, I suppose a cavalry shoring up out of the blue is a coincidence, but if the writer were to go and somehow plan or foresee this cavalry, then it would be plot line…do you think?

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