[00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. A podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
[00:00:10] What I want to talk to you about are some of the aha moments that I have had as a writer or a screenwriter in particular.
[00:00:18] Some of the tricks of the trade that I've learned or some of the writing principles that all of a sudden made me go, "Holy cow, I get it. I get it."
[00:00:28] And it helped me have a breakthrough as a writer. So I have quite a bit that I've listed out and we'll break them up over the next coming weeks. And we'll cover all of them in due time.
[00:00:40] The very first one I want to talk to you about is coincidence. You only get one coincidence per story.
[00:00:49] Now, before I talk about where you can have a coincidence, let me talk about why coincidence is a bad thing. Coincidence is a bad thing because it has to do with who is driving the action of your story.
[00:01:04] The story should unfold according to the choices that your character is making. Everything that happens in the story should be intentional. And it should, ultimately, if possible, be as a result of the choices that your character is making.
[00:01:19] But coincidence eliminates that possibility. If something happens coincidentally, it means that the character had no control over it. Therefore, we question their heroism or their value or their abilities to even solve whatever it is that they're trying to solve over the course of the story. So coincidence undermines your character's personal power.
[00:01:45] You don't want that. You want to make sure that at every potential possibility that your character is revealing who they really are on the inside because of the choices that they're making. And that it doesn't lead to coincidence, it leads to specific outcomes.
[00:02:04] Now, there can be, of course, things that surprise the character, things that they're not counting on because of the will of the bad guy or the villain. But that's different than coincidence.
[00:02:15] For example, you would never ever want to have a character win some sort of battle because coincidentally something happened.
[00:02:25] This is a mistake that was made in episode one of Star Wars. Alright, you've got little Anakin Skywalker. And what happens at the end is he coincidentally, he just happens to, not because of any skill or ability or intuition of his own, he blows up the Death Star. It's completely accidental, which is the same as saying coincidental.
[00:02:49] And that's just bad. It's just bad because that means that we don't respect the character because they didn't intend to do it. It undermines their value. It undermines their power. It undermines their potential. In this case, we wanted to see Anakin Skywalker, how smart and keen and intuitive he was beyond the other little boys.
[00:03:14] But of course, everything that was happening in Star Wars Episode 1 made us hate him anyway. So, there you go, George Lucas. But you don't want a coincidence.
[00:03:24] Now sometimes, it might seem to the character that there is a coincidence. For example, maybe this is something, a period piece from, say, the Viking era or something like that, and they're looking for signs.
[00:03:44] Okay, well, maybe you could say, "Oh, it's coincidental that the volcano happened to blow up at that moment."
[00:03:51] But, for that culture, they're looking for signs. They're still acting on something that could have been a coincidence to us, but they're still acting on it and making choices as a result of whatever sign they think that that means. So there's got to be an act of human will.
[00:04:10] Another possible scenario where you might see something like this come into play. Let's say you have some sort of story where you have the character in a big battle at some particular point. They lose the battle. And they are incapacitated by the bad guys and completely unable to defend themselves.
[00:04:32] And then, quote, coincidentally, the resistant movement that he has been trying to get in touch with the whole time happens to show up and save the day and sweep him away. Just in time. Just in the nick of time. So you could say that that's coincidence.
[00:04:48] But notice what I said. He's been trying to get in touch with them the whole time.
[00:04:52] Maybe he's failed in that, but his efforts then allowed the coincidence to happen when it did, so he was still part of making sure that happened.
[00:05:03] Now, you only get one coincidence per story. You can only do it once.
[00:05:10] And I'm not talking about the inciting incident, because the inciting incident can be a quote coincidence. It can be something that happens out of the blue.
[00:05:19] It can be, you know, your character walking across the street and boom! They get hit by a Mac truck and now they're a ghost. I mean, that could be what your story is. That's not the coincidence I'm talking about. I'm talking about a coincidence that happens in the plot later.
[00:05:34] However, I would say, you need to make sure that that coincidence doesn't make up the ultimate climax, like we saw in Episode 1 of Star Wars, when Anakin Skywalker blows up that first Death Star.
[00:05:51] That is what everything is hinging on. And that was just a terrible time to have a coincidence. It shouldn't be part of the climax.
[00:05:58] It can be any other part of the story. It can even probably be in Act 3, depending on how you're using it, but don't have it be part of the climax.
[00:06:09] If it's part of the climax, again, it feels like we've been cheated. See, that's the other thing that coincidence does. It makes us, the audience, feel like we've been robbed of the journey. Because the hero didn't win according to their own merits. They just get lucky and we don't want to see them get lucky.
[00:06:31] Now they can get lucky once, right? They can get lucky once. Otherwise, it's gotta be based on the character's skill. Or else, we feel robbed and cheated and we don't emotionally invest in the character like we need to. Which is the point.
[00:06:48] So just remember, you only get one coincidence per story. So make it count.
[00:06:54] In the meantime, thank you for listening to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.