Coincidence: Does it Have Any Value in Fiction?

`There exists a type of phenomenon…which has puzzled man. The seemingly accidental meeting of two unrelated causal chains in a coincidental event which appears both highly improbable and highly significant.’
Arthur Koestler

A coincidence can force you into a position of having to examine all the facts before coming to a conclusion. With the pressures of everyday life this is often impractical and inefficient. Practicality and expediency demand people behave as though coincidence does not exist.
Scientific research, in its attempt to be rigorous, uses the scientific method; a form of inquiry that is often incorrectly emulated in everyday life. The scientific method eliminates facts and fields extraneous to the area of inquiry. Then the data is allowed to prove or disprove the original hypothesis.
When a form of the scientific method is applied to everyday events it often happens like this. A theory of the event, based on the desired outcome, is proposed, then the facts are made to fit the event. In this type of reasoning coincidence can have no place. In fixed theories facts that don’t fit are discarded and ignored. This is the quickest way to reach a conclusion but is it the way to the truth? Is it a representation of real life? Is it the way a writer should write?
Sherlock Holmes sought the theory of the crime through the facts, not the facts through the theory of the crime. Even though, in every Holmes mystery he is credited with making `brilliant deductions’ he was actually making `brilliant inductions’-discovering the general from the specific. When you start with the general you’re in danger of tailoring the facts to meet the theory.
Believers in practicality and expediency say there is no such thing as coincidence but let them then explain luck to me. People who need money win the lottery just like people who don’t need money win it. How can that be? Both are coincidences.
Accepted advice to writers warns you to avoid coincidence. The advice says your reader’s interest will wane if they can’t see that you have control over how events link together. If they can’t trust you to control your characters, your events, your outcomes you will lose them. In your God-like omnipotence you know what’s going to happen so coincidence is damaging to you reputation as a God. But you’re not The God or even a small `g’ god. Coincidence is a valid and valuable tool for the writer.
We can be thankful these advisers were not around to edit or influence Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, George Eliot or Douglas Adams.
Write on.

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