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Stranger than fiction

Readers rarely tolerate a convenient coincidence in a book. Yet real life is rife with them. Heck, ask any couple how they met and you’ll likely be amazed at how tenuous and chancy the circumstances were. A recent coincidence in my own life got me thinking about it.

Two weekends ago, The Engineer and I took the kids to Family Days at the AAAS (Association of Americans for the Advancement of Science) conference in DC. I heard about it through a new “friend” on Twitter and thought the boys might enjoy it. And in fact, we all did.

The two most memorable things we saw were the prototype of a 3-D printer for home use, and the surveillance hummingbird. If you watch the video in the article link below, the guy flying the bird is the scientist/designer we met at the conference.

So, imagine my surprise when several days later, I received a note from my aunt—who lives on the other side of the country, has no email, Facebook, or other tech, and had no idea we attended the AAAS conference—and included in her letter was an article from the Los Angeles Times about the robot hummingbird.

Attached was a note: “I saw this and thought you might find it interesting.” My jaw dropped. Why yes. As a matter of fact, we did!

Just to be clear, I can’t remember the last time she sent me an article from the paper. It's possible she never has.

If I put an incident like that in a book and made it pivotal and important to the plot, the readers would cry foul. “Too easy!” they’d shout. We’re willing to suspend disbelief in real life because we have no choice. From a book, we want clear cause and effect.

To make it believable, I’d have to talk to my aunt on the phone, tell her we were going to the conference, and then she’d see the article in the paper and have a reason to think of us.


Sometimes life really is stranger—and more interesting—than fiction.

Got any fun coincidences to share?

Tell your friends!


  1. Curtis


    I wonder. How detailed and literal does foreshadowing have to be? If the coincidence is pivotal and important, foreshadowing would be necessary and need to come early. But, isn’t suggestion and hint what foreshadowing is about? If it weren’t so late I’d play with this some more.

    Did you see the last couple of segments of Castle? The foreshadowing was actually the critical moment in the show. Without it there would been no way for the answer to appear. That show is fantastic with story structure.

    • Reply

      I’m not sure, Curtis. I think you can do just about anything in your story IF it’s supported.

      As a reader I hate anything that smacks of an easy out for the writer, and it’s easy to avoid that mistake if you go back and slip the necessary item or mention in.

      And, no, I’m the only writer I know who doesn’t watch Castle. I’ve heard great things, but just haven’t had time to pick up another show.

      Good to “see” you again. Hope things are going well with your writing!

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