Okay, I’ll admit, using “yoga” to describe this concept is a bit of a stretch, twisting what I have (an idea for a blog post) into the not-necessarily compatible position that I need it to be in (a tricky letter in this alphabet challenge). But that makes it quite a perfect metaphor for the topic at hand, really. The trope of the day is Contrived Coincidence. You all know this one: the plot gets stuck in a corner, and some outlandish, utterly improbable occurrence comes along to get it moving again. This is mostly an acceptable break from reality as long as it’s not too egregious. After all, insane coincidences happen in real life all the time, and depending on the tone of the story, the audience is frequently willing to just go along with it to keep things moving. Hell, sometimes it gets explained by there being some force within the story that’s manipulating events to its liking (instead of it just being, you know, the author doing exactly that).
Still, it’s kind of a lazy technique, frequently the mark of a writer with two preconceived story points and no reasonable way to connect them who just said “Fuck it” and moved on. It’s laid out in one of Pixar’s rules of storytelling: “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.” Once you get past a certain point in the story, the audience wants things to connect, to pay off the setups and tie everything together.
The Star Trek reboot is a prime example of cheating coincidences. Of course having every leadership position on the ship vacated just in time for the familiar characters to step in is a bit of a stretch, but it pales in comparison to what happens after Vulcan gets ‘sploded. Spock dumps Kirk on the nearest planet, where he almost immediately finds… Spock Prime! And naturally, the elder Spock has information to impart that’s critical for moving the plot forward. Naturally.
That would already be a pretty staggering example, but it gets worse! Because only a few miles away from the Ice Cave of Destiny, there’s a Federation outpost, staffed by none other than Scotty. The fact that it’s Scotty is not that huge a stretch; this is an origin story after all, so he’s not a main character at this point, just a random dude. The fact that said random dude has just invented exactly the technology that Kirk needs to get back onto the Enterprise? Less forgivable.
The worst part of all is that there’s no explanation. This goes back to what we discussed earlier this month about lampshade hanging: when you’re giving suspension of disbelief that rough a buggering, there desperately needs to be some sort of acknowledgment to keep it from breaking entirely. In this case, you could have had Kirk dropped off actually at the Federation outpost, or have Spock somehow mention that he’s purposefully dropping him not too far away, which solves one Scotty conundrum. As for the transwarp beaming, perhaps a throwaway line earlier in the movie about some dude who was working on that technology would have softened that blow. And with Spock Prime, well, any way you slice it, that’s still going to be one hell of a coincidence. But having it piled atop the other whoppers pushes things from “That’s rather unlikely” to “Look, if you’re not going to take this seriously…”
Willing suspension of disbelief relies on trust. It’s the writer being able to credibly say, “Yes, I know what I’m doing. This is going somewhere worthwhile. Just stay with me and we’ll have a good time.” But leaning too heavily on something like coincidence jeopardizes that trust. Like an inexperienced yoga practitioner attempting a pose that’s way beyond their level, the whole thing is unstable and likely to fall over if you look at it funny. The foundation of a good story is a logical progression of events (even if that logic isn’t readily apparent the whole time). Life can rely on coincidence sometimes, but as a writer, you should probably think twice.