In 1953, a man in Brooklyn bought a newspaper and paid for it with a nickel. Later that day, the newsboy happened to drop that nickel, and it split apart on the sidewalk, revealing a tiny frame of microfilm. And so began the tortuous path that led to the apprehension of Colonel Rudolf Abel, Soviet master spy. True story, but would your reader buy it in a work of fiction? Or would he or she go, “Yeah, right!” and turn the page? The “yeah, right” reaction is easily evoked by such a too-obvious coincidence. More than one “yeah, right” in the same story, and the reader will probably put the book down and use his or her precious time for something else. We’re all entitled to one whizz-bang coincidence that either starts our story or turns it into a new and unexpected direction. Think Casablanca : “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” And if she hadn’t, we’d all be the poorer for it. In A Study in Scarlet , Watson runs into Young Stamford, a medical colleague, who asks him what he’s up to. “Looking for lodgings,” I […]