WHERE YOU SHOULD PLACE COINCIDENCES IN YOUR STORY

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.

This is a famous line from a famous actor in the famous film, Casablanca.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term gin joint, substitute it with the word “bar” or night club or pub, and it would serve the same purpose.

Of all the bars in the world, she walks into mine.

Another way of saying, what a bloody coincidence.

A month ago, I met a new friend who directed a short corporate video from a script I was hired to write. I hit it off with the director and we agreed to work on future projects. Sometime after that, I attended a ceremony for Marketing Awards. Midway through the ceremony, I walked out of the event hall to the restroom and when I came out, I heard someone calling my name.

It was my new friend, the director.

Turned out he was attending the ceremony because he was nominated for an award for another video he shot.

Coincidence?

Flashforward a few weeks after that.

I went on a 3 day-2-night cruise called the SPECTRUM OF THE SEAS. For those who have never been on a cruise and wonder what on earth people do on board the fifth largest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet of cruise ships, well, wonder no more.

A quick check of my diary would reveal the following activities.

Eat breakfast.

Watch Tv.

Take selfies.

Eat brunch.

Walk.

Nap.

Eat Lunch.

Play bingo.

Eat tea.

Eat pizza.

Eat hot dogs.

Learn the art of folding napkins into shapes of ducks.

Eat dinner.

Watch movies near pool.

Eat supper.

As you can guess, you do a lot of eating on a cruise ship. Unless there is a global pandemic that forces your ship to be stranded on the open sea, there is no such thing as hunger. Amongst all your body parts, your stomach is VVIP. Your stomach receives more loving attention in three days than it does in an entire year.

People who go onboard cruises bring their families. I was no exception. Spectrum of the Seas is a family-friendly ship, with fun activities planned for children as well as the wives. And what can you do when you have nowhere to go and the queue for the free FlowRider is just too long?

You browse.

You shop.

And so I followed my wife as she browsed the shops on the third deck. There was Gucci, Bulgari, and some other high-end brand boutique shops that would surely have brought many twinkles to the eyes of ladies who are into that sort of thing. Thank goodness my wife wasn’t. Or my wallet would have shrunk faster than you could say “shrink”.

As I was standing outside, looking bored and with my eyes glazed, like a meat lover at an Organic Vegan Convention, I noticed a young couple hovering outside a jewelry shop. They kept shooting glances at me. A thought flashed through my head. Did I forget to pull up my zipper? Am I exposing my undergarment on a cruise ship and thus risk a potential scandal on the Royal Caribbean Website?

I cast a quick glance downwards and sighed a huge sigh of relief. Zipper was securely fastened. There was no accidental exposure of my Man Bits.

Then I heard someone calling my name. I turned around.

Upon closer examination as they stepped closer, and to my utter shock, the couple turned out to be my ex-students.

What were the odds of me meeting two students whom I taught years ago, on a cruise ship years later?

This series of coincidences are memorable. Because they seem to defy odds. It should not have happened, but it did. And because it did, this other thing happened. And then THAT other thing happened. Before you know it, lo and behold, a tale has begun.

Which brings me to the subject of storytelling. And where one should be positioning a coincidental event?

You position it at the start of a tale.

You begin your story with a coincidence. Because it gets noticed.

But why? Why is a coincidence so arresting? Why does it stake a claim on our attention?

Here’s my take.

If your life was a piece of music, chances are that over time, you would get used to the melody. No chord change is likely to surprise you. A coincidence, in that sense, is like a jarring crash of sound. It delivers a jolt to your slumber. Coincidental events give the impression that in the vastness of Space, you are not an insignificant speck of an insect. That as the gears of the Celestial Machinery operated by the Gods turn, they turn only for you.

This is comforting.

It is always a comfort not to feel insignificant.

A coincidental event is any event that makes you go “What are the odds of that?” or “You’re not going to believe what happened”. It is thus, a great way to begin a story. Particularly a love story. Boarding a plane to Paris and discovering the person sitting next to you just happened to be your crush. What a coincidence! You will not believe what happened next. And now we are blissfully married and live happily ever after.

Though coincidences are great for beginning a story, they should never EVER be used to end your tale. A coincidence that begins your story, delights and intrigues. A coincidence that resolves your story angers and alienates. A coincidence at the start of your story invites your readers on a journey. A coincidence at the end of your story betrays the trust that readers have given to you as they faithfully followed you throughout the story journey.

Remember thus.

Begin your story with a coincidence

And tell the tale with confidence

But end your story with a coincidence

You will arouse hate and worse, indifference.

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Andrew Ngin

Man In The Arena . Once a lecturer. Written television, films, short stories. Older. Singaporean. Still writing. Always with love