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  • Writer's pictureBernard Beitman, MD

How to Write a Convincing Coincidence Story

Help your readers and listeners tune into your synchronicity.


Coincidences can be amazing. If you want to communicate that amazement to others and remember it yourself, here are some guidelines to help you do just that.

Intention

What is your intention in writing this coincidence story?

Personal use?

  • to record it so the details can be remembered?

  • to record it in your coincidence diary to look for patterns?

For others?

  • to ask for their comments?

  • to convince them that something worth examining has happened?

If you want the reader to be engaged enough to read the full account and see the value in it, ask yourself: what movie am I attempting to play in their minds?


The key variables in writing the story are:

  • How often you have told the story

  • Length

  • Number of Details

  • Falsification

  • Pattern description

How often you have told this story

If this is the first time, you are unlikely to describe the coincidence well. Storytelling takes practice! Consider practicing on someone or writing a draft in the way you would first tell it. Then use the following suggestions to shape and sharpen it. Length

Stories longer than half a page need to be well-written to hold the reader’s attention. If you are not a practiced story writer, try to keep the length close to half a page.

Detail

You might think that the more detail you present, the more believable the coincidence is because they demonstrate that you were really there! —not necessarily true. You might use certain details because they carry you back into this memorable experience. article continues after advertisement Detail not directly related to the coincidence may lose the reader’s attention unless these details are also engaging.

Examples of Concise Coincidence Stories

  1. My dog ran away. In looking for him, I got lost and found him.

  2. I was choking uncontrollably, and 3,000 miles away, my father was choking on his own blood, dying.

  3. Two days before a college football game, I was moved by an intuitive drive to rehearse my response to an odd situation I’d never practiced before. That situation was repeated during the game two days later. I was ready for it and ran 90 yards for a touchdown.

Falsification

Be wary of memory and falsification in the service of a better story. Falsification can also result from omitting details that are relevant but reduce the surprise value of the story. The only way to avoid this is to record the coincidence soon after its occurrence. Pattern description

The structure of most coincidences involves two similar patterns coming together in a surprising, unexpected, low probability way. Make each of these elements stand out clearly.

In describing the first pattern, emphasize the key aspects of pattern that you will later show to be repeated in the second pattern. Convey how the coincidence is surprising/beyond expectations by emphasizing the facts the lower the probability. Limit the details to those that are relevant and/or engaging. Example:


For the first time in his life of 45 years, Jim told this coincidence story to me. He had gone to the University of Virginia and stayed in Charlottesville. He gave a lot of details about college roommates and trying to date someone who turned him down and dates he went on, and classes he took and books he read and the layout of the library where he tried to convince a certain young woman to go out with him. He eventually got to describing how his two roommates helped him to go out with this resistant young woman who became his wife. He described a visit soon after graduating to one roommate who was living in South Africa and that man’s problems with his wife. He finally got to the coincidence itself which took place in a national park but described back entrances, and wetlands and other geographical features and mixed in more details about his two roommates and where they lived. He had not seen either roommate for over 15 years. Both of them unexpectedly appeared in the Rocky Mountain National Park where he and his wife were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary.

His story took about 5 minutes to tell.

After re-booting his thinking, he was able to describe the patterns more clearly by removing the details from his account that were not directly relevant.

  • Setting: He and his wife went to the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado for their 20th wedding anniversary.

  • Pattern 1: His two roommates from college were instrumental in his meeting his wife. The basic pattern was an emotion filled four-sided relationship involving him, his wife and the two roommates that led to his marriage.

  • Unexpectedness: He had not seen either roommate in many years although they had occasionally kept in touch. One lived in Georgia and could only rarely leave the state because of his job. The other lived in South Africa and had avoided coming to the U.S.

  • Pattern 2: While crossing a bridge into the park, he heard his name being called. It was one of the roommates who then told him that the other roommate had just called to say hi and reported that he too was currently in the park. This event becomes a repetition of the four-sided relationship and that helped to create his much desired marriage.

  • Unexpectedness: To Jim, who was a botany researcher, this was a very low probability event that could not be explained by statistics.

  • Meaning: The coincidence was highly meaningful to him because it further celebrated his marriage which was the purpose of the trip.

  • My Comment: Running into people one knows in faraway places is more likely than it appears because people of the same socioeconomic status tend to visit similar places. That there were four people in a narrow time window at an emotionally significant time lowers the probability significantly.

Multiple Pattern Repetitions

If the pattern is being repeated more than once, it may not be necessary to describe each of the different contexts in which the pattern is being repeated.


First is the detailed version:

54-year-old Jacob is considering divorcing his wife. The children have left home. He has tried to work on the relationship with her but she hardly seems to hear what he is saying. As his decision comes closer to reality, he goes to the local shopping mall and sees a friend looking miserable. The friend tells him that his own divorce several months ago seemed to be liberating and then the loneliness closed in. A few minutes later Jacob walks into the supermarket and there’s another old friend also looking unhappy. He was divorced two years ago and things were not going well. Then he went to the pharmacy to pick up some medication and there standing in line was a colleague from work whose ugly divorce had become a major topic in the rumor mill. All these divorced men! Each of them unhappy. He decided to take a walk in a nearby park. There he ran into his dentist who was strolling with his young dental assistant. Jacob knew they were having an affair which started right after his divorce and that his two daughters would not talk with him. Although they seemed happy together, Jacob had heard how depressed the dentist had felt with the loss of his relationships with is daughters. On the way home, stopped at a red light, he saw a man from church who had made a suicide attempt after his wife divorced him. Jacob decided that was a message he had to hear. He decided to try once again with his wife.

The short version:

Jacob was considering divorce. In one day he saw five different men, each of whom he knew were suffering from the impact of divorce. He decided to try once again with his wife.

Final Comment

Much depends on the context in which the story is being told — to whom you are telling the story and what impact you wish to have.

 

References

  • Stockbridge, Germaine ; Wooffitt, Robin. / Coincidence by design. In: Qualitative Research. 2018; pp. 1-18

 
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