"#19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating."
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A writer's job is to make life difficult for their characters—after all, without conflict, there isn't much of a story at all. People like to read about characters who have overcome outstanding odds and great difficulties, so when a character overcomes said difficulty due to sheer coincidence, the victory feels unearned. The character didn't really overcome anything—they just stumbled into good fortune. Unfortunately, life rarely works that way, and when it comes to fiction their lives should never work that way.
The same idea applies to random nature/God/fate/whatever events in your writing. If, for example, your main character is fighting your antagonist during a thunderstorm and it looks like he's going to lose, then a bolt of lightning comes out of the stormy clouds and strikes your antagonist dead at the last second, your readers are not going to be very happy. If, on the other hand, your main character is faring well in the fight and that same bolt of lightning strikes him down and turns the tables, well, your character is very unlucky, but it's fair game.
Our characters don't always deserve the misfortune that befalls them—in fact, often times they don't deserve it all, but they must always deserve their victories, even the small ones. Readers love to cheer for the underdog, and quite frankly, they're fun to discover in our writing. But the moment life starts looking a little too good or events just happen to turn in your characters' favor, you know it might be time to change your character's fate—and not for the better.
What do you think? Do you include coincidences in your writing? Do they help or hurt your protagonist?