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Coincidences

Coincidence in film form

Coincidences are such useful and difficult concepts to include in a funny, witty story that I feel the need to expand on them in a separate post, even though I listed them in my schematic regarding witty comedies. Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors revolves around a huge coincidence: the fact that two sets of long-lost twins happen to run into each other and mistake themselves. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is the best example of the use of coincidence, though: Two men claim to be Earnest for different reasons, and Earnest doesn’t exist, until at the end, it turns out that one of them is Earnest. Coincidentally, of course.

Coincidence is clearly a great plot device , right? Well… there’s a tricky caveat.

Only use it once per story.

People love the feeling of a coincidence: it’s light, airy and fun, and it also polarizes the convenivence or inconvenience of the characters, which greatly helps a plot along. An actual  coincidence , however, is rightly considered poor writing. It’s the easy way out, and too many of them make a plot collapse. Rule of thumb is to only have one good  coincidence per story. When writing a fun, witty story, one must get the feel of a  coincidence without actually having one. How, then, does one get just the feel of one?

Solution: Lying.

First, someone could lie about a coincidence. This is still a pretty easy way to get a  coincidence feel, though.

The second, more clever way it to make the lie not be about the  coincidence , but actually cause the ” coincidence .” Whenever someone lies, they hide the truth. Then, when a  coincidence shows up later in the tale, it turns out that it only appears to be a coincidence due to the missing info. Oscar Wilde used this a lot.

A third option, related to the second one, is that a third party takes advantage of the liar’s lying lie by going on to create an artificial  coincidence for his own gain. That one advances the plot and characters, but can be tricky as well.

Oscar Wilde was a genuis at this sort of feel, which is why his light, witty plays are the best of their kind. Work on it yourself, and you can capitalize on the sense of a coincidence that everyone loves.

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