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Writing Tips: Coincidence in Fiction

Another question from my Fiction Writing FB group.

Question:

Does this come off as too much of a coincidence in my plot?

My story is a crime thriller and in it, a woman wants police protection because she knows too much about a crime, and after being interviewed at the police station, the main character detective takes her home, and she begs him to protect her, since she is in fear of harm.

He can’t do it and break protocol and is about to leave, and then he gets a call from his superior, giving him the assignment of protecting her.

But I am wondering if it comes off as too much of a coincidental convenience, that she wants something, he doesn’t give it to her, and then he gets a phone call that compels him to give to her, and thus conveniently answering her prayer in a sense?

Answer:

Can you show that it is not a coincidence? If the superior orders the MC to do something against protocol, he should smell something fishy. That and the timing being just a little “too perfect” indicates the superior is watching the witness, the MC, or both. Why and how? And why did the superior not assign protection at first only to change his mind a few hours later? Is the superior being pressured by someone else? It sounds like there is something corrupt in the department that could not only explain the coincidence but drive the plot and the MC’s actions.

It turned out all my guesses were wrong. So without knowing the story, I can’t comment any further on this example. But here is a rule of thumb. If the scene unfolds this way for no reason other than you need it to, it’s too much of a coincidence.