In order to keep a story moving, things need to happen a certain way. Sometimes everything is carefully set up and orchestrated, so that events unfold in an organic, natural fashion. More often than not, though, things happen the way they do simply Because Destiny Says So.
There's just one tiny little problem with that theory: Sometimes, Destiny doesn't say so.
Contrived Coincidence describes a highly improbable occurrence in a story which is required by the plot, but which has absolutely no outward justification not so much as a character saying There Are No Coincidences. The concept of "destiny" is glossed over altogether, and the events in question are simply disguised as mere happenstance. This would be jarring, but most of the time no attention is drawn to the event at all. It's just a narrative convention designed to skip over lots of irrelevant stuff by putting the important events all together, leaving the audience to forget the improbability of the event.
In cases where the coincidence is acknowledged, it's likely a Lampshade Hanging. Unlikely coincidences are bound to happen once in a while. Exceptional things don't happen to the main characters because they are main characters; rather, they are designated main characters because exceptional things happen to them. In other words, there would be no story without this first exceptional coincidence. The earlier in the story the plot-driving coincidences occur, the more leeway the writer has with them.
Make note that like its sister trope Theory of Narrative Causality, this is one of the most pervasive tropes out there. Remember though, that just because a work uses this trope is not an automatic black mark against it. Even the greatest works out there sometimes need a great leap to get the plot to go in an interesting direction.
Too many contrived coincidences may result in One Degree of Separation. For a more grandiose or plot-wrapping version, see Deus ex Machina. A person who is a Weirdness Magnet tends to be a walking contrived coincidence. Often, these can disguise a Gambit Roulette as The Plan. If the story's premise is this trope or relies on it, it's It Began with a Twist of Fate instead. Framing the Guilty Party invokes this trope when the one doing the framing didn't know that party was already guilty.
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- Western Animation
- Big Finish Doctor Who, "Invaders from Mars": The Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard arrive in New York, Halloween, 1938, on the very night of Orson Welles' infamous "War of the Worlds" broadcast... and swiftly learn that there's an actual alien invasion taking place that night, with the Doctor using Welles' broadcast to try and trick the aliens into thinking someone's beaten them to Earth.
- In the Child Ballad The Lord of Lorn and the False Steward, the duke's daughter happens to both be wooed by the false lord of Lorn and come across the true one and decide to hire him.
- Parodied by extending the series of coincidences to absurd lengths in The Wreck of the Crash of the Easthill Mining Disaster).
- In Hjältekvädet, the hero keeps getting killed in battle for fairly understandable reasons, with the narrator having to retcon each event with all sorts of implausible coincidences (he gets shot with an arrow to the head, but a goose lands and takes it for him; he gets stabbed from behind, but he happens to carry a sack of potatoes on his back for some reason; he gets crushed by a panicked horse, but it gets distracted by an attractive elk and leaves instead; and he gets hacked to pieces by a superior swordsman, only to instead just win without further explanation). This is because the narrator/songwriter is getting paid to make a heroic ballad, not a realistic one.
- In this page's image, Calvin and Hobbes gave us the story of a jet whose engines explode "for no reason" and falls out of the sky, a half-million-ton freight train jumping the tracks after hitting a penny on the rails at 80mph, and a shift in the Earth's tectonic plates all heading for the same spot - the house of Farmer Brown, who is unaware of a gas leak as he attempts to light his stove.
- The 14 September 2011 The Argyle Sweater strip has the Peanuts gang at the beach, with Charlie Brown having just been for a free face painting and having his head painted like a soccer ball before being buried up to his neck in the sand, the back of his head facing fellow beachgoer David Beckham. The caption lampshades the coincidence: "A perfect storm of events led to a tragic end for Charlie Brown."
- In The 30 November 1997◊ strip has Garfield's owner Jon, in typical Walking Disaster Area form, with his head stuck in a wastebasket and pickle jars stuck over both hands mere minutes before his date for the evening arrives. Garfield "solves" the problem by drawing a face on the wastebasket, then answers the doorbell to find Jon's date... with a wastebasket (complete with face drawing) over her head and pickle jars on either hand. Garfield thinks, "Funny how things work out."
- A month long arc in which Garfield and Odie end up lost concludes with the two ending up in a pet shop, which Jon ends up walking into. After leaving the shop, Jon comments on what a coincidence it was, saying he never would've thought to look for them there. This leaves Garfield to begin wondering why Jon went to the pet shop then, before immediately deciding he didn't want to know.
- Gary Larson employed this trope in The Far Side, usually when dealing with Bizarre Alien Biology. In one strip, a city is invaded by extraterrestrials with wooden-plank limbs and brick-wall bodies... who land right next to a group of black belt karate students. In another, Earth is inadvertently doomed to annihilation when an alien race meets a friendly farmer who, trying to be polite, "shakes hands"—unfortunately, said aliens have hand-shaped heads.
- In a non-alien example, this strip has a chicken tied to a balloon floating into a bar...that just so happens to be filled with armed samurai.
- The pith and essence of the tale type known as "Doctor Know-All", the main character of which knows very little but is always saved by amazing coincidences that make him look good.
- In every single telling of The Little Mermaid, including the Disney version, after the mermaid loses her voice and becomes human, the first human she encounters is always the prince, who just so happens to be wandering around at the time. And it's never a lowly fisherman, a villager, or even someone with shady intentions; it's always the prince, just for the sake of moving the story forward. The Disney version somewhat justifies this by implying the beach Eric's castle is located in is the one that's closest to Atlantica.
- "Birthday" by The Beatles from The White Album.
They say it's your birthday!
Well, it's my birthday too, yeah!''
- Rupert Holmes' "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" has a guy planning to cheat on his wife/girlfriend by taking out a personal ad. Not only is said ad answered by his wife/girlfriend out of all the people in the world, but they discover that they have a lot of the same specific likes and preferences (piña coladas, getting caught in the rain, etc.) in common, which they'd somehow never shared with each other before. At least slightly justified by both parties presumably sharing the same local newspaper, which may even have been left open at the ads section.
- "Christmas at Sea", a song by the sea shanty band The Longest Johns based on a poem of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson, involves a ship nearly wrecking on the exact stretch of coast where the narrator's family home is located.
- A recurring line in the Book of Esther is "It so happened." Although God is never mentioned as being directly in control of the events of the text, the implication is that He is in control in the background, that there are too many coincidences for this turn of events to really be a coincidence. The text is sometimes used to drive home the point that God helps those who help themselves, or is in control when it seems from an outside perspective that He is not.
- In The BBC's science fiction drama Earthsearch there's an episode where the four-person crew of the starship involved in the titular search defeat an evil robot that tried to take over. Having done so they decide it's time to set course for their next destination, but it turns out that they don't have to, because out of all the infinite directions it could have chosen the evil robot randomly selected the very course they wanted to take. In another episode, somewhere in the vastness of interstellar space they just happen to accidentally run into one of the only two other ships in the fleet, just so they can have an adventure on board.
- Our Miss Brooks: In "Poison Ivy", Miss Brooks tells off an obnoxious man who is tying up Mrs. Davis' party line. Later, Miss Brooks and Walter Denton nearly run over an obnoxious jaywalking woman on their drive to school. Unhappily, Mr. Conklin soon informs Miss Brooks that said obnoxious man and woman are important state officials who have the power to fire Mr. Conklin or Miss Brooks on the spot!
- Simon Wood in Survival of the Fittest version three managing to navigate his way across an island and find his girlfriend just in time to rescue her from an attacker. To some extent, this also occurs when groups of friends manage to meet up with one another very quickly: the Deserted Islands upon which the games take place are rather large, and the odds of meeting your friends that fast are rather slim, to say the least.
- That's basically how coincidental magic in Mage: The Ascension works - by cheating Consensus into believing that a magical effect works according to present laws of reality.
- The very short answer: magic in Mage is much less dangerous when it is coincidental, meaning the normal folk don't realize it's happening, than when it's vulgar, such as throwing a fireball. Since Mage is set in a modern urban fantasy like our world, its people think more or less like us. Thus, a mage blasting down a door with a giant ball of force is asking for trouble, but secretly unlocking it and muttering about careless security is much less likely to cause a problem.
- Older Than Steam: The Bard is not immune to this.
- There's no reason at all that Romeo didn't get the message about Juliet's sleeping potion, except to make the story a "tragedy" in the loosest sense of the word. (There's an explanation, involving a plague outbreak and a quarantine, but it's still a contrived coincidence that the quarantine happens at that particular time.) Arthur Laurents, librettist of West Side Story, was very proud of inventing a more compelling reason the message was lost, as Tony's gang very nearly rapes the messenger.
- The Comedy of Errors requires unimaginable coincidences, as do most of Shakespeare's comedies.
- In The Taming of the Shrew, Bianca's many suitors need someone brave enough to marry the shrewish Katherine so that Bianca will be eligible for marriage. When they decide that, in rides Petruchio, who thinks that a beautiful, rich wife sounds fantastic, and finds the idea of "taming" her to be thrilling.
- In Othello, Iago's wife doesn't see fit to tell Othello what a scoundrel her husband is until after he murders Desdemona.
- In Cymbeline, princess Imogen thinks her husband Posthumus is dead because she wakes up to see his headless body next to her. Except it's actually somebody else, who's been beheaded, is dressed in Posthumus's stolen clothes and happens to have a body near-identical to Posthumus's. And just to be clear: neither his clothing, his build, his beheading or his being placed next to her is in any way an intentional attempt to fool her. Nothing but coincidences caused a near-identical, dead copy of Posthumus to be there at that time.
- The traditional Russian name for this trope is "grand piano in the bushes". It comes from an old Soviet stage comedy sketch "Completely coincidentally" by Arkady Arkanov and Grigory Gorin, which parodied obviously staged Soviet news reports that were made to look live and improvised. In the sketch a TV reporter interviews a retired heroic factory worker, with objects and people that help illustrate some parts of his story just "completely coincidentally" happening to be nearby. The sketch concludes with the interviewer asking the worker what he does in his spare time, to which he replies that he is a skilled musician, and wouldn't you know, there just happens to be a grand piano hidden in the nearby bushes for him to demonstrate his musical skills.
- In Les Misérables, this trope seems to be in play as all of the important characters happen to show up in the same place at the same time.
- Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest relies on ridiculous coincidence for its humour.
- In Pokémon Live!, MechaMew2 has learned every single move... except for Thundershock and Thunder. This gives Giovanni the perfect excuse to have Jessie and James kidnap Ash's Pikachu for him. Keep in mind that Giovanni keeps referring to the total amount of moves as 251, which it is in the second generation. This means that MechaMew2 has somehow learned the signature moves of two legendary Pokémon (Lugia's Aeroblast and Ho-oh's Sacred Fire) but is yet to meet one that uses either of the two rather common Electric-type moves.
- In Umineko: When They Cry, Bernkastel has the power to invoke miracles, which basically amounts to making almost impossible events happen. Due to Bernkastel min-maxing in character generation, Erika's whole life has become a series of these, from the improbable skill set she's acquired to her very arrival in the game.
- The scene early in Kira-Kira where Tonoya gives concert tickets to Kirari and Shika, thereby putting the plot in motion. When Shika is being interviewed later on in the game, both he and the interviewer lambaste the event, claiming that things like that just don't happen in real life.
- Ace Attorney:
- Almost all the cases would be unwinnable if it weren't for at least one witness being in the right place at the right time.
- In the third case of the second game: a circus ringmaster goes to meet with someone, instead his daughter's place. He just so happens to borrow your defendant's cloak. The murderer drops what just so happens to be a bronze bust of your client on the ringmaster, killing him. The bust just so happens to snag on the cloak when he pulls it up, and to a witness from exactly the right spot, it looks like your client is flying away from the corpse - and flying just so happens to be your client's signature magic trick.
- Everyone realizes just how much of a Contrived Coincidence each act is, and when the evidence supports the theory, actively rebel against anyone accepting it as the truth. Phoenix himself acknowledges that it's incredibly unlikely and near impossible, and, in his words, "But that's exactly what happened." This happens all the time.
- The plot arcs of each game have a few coincidences, but are usually explained as the long-term plans of people involved with the cases. Not so with the events of Investigations. It seems that when Edgeworth was first starting out as a prosecutor several years ago, he got involved in an incident involving a smuggling ring. Cut to the present day, where he ends up investigating three crimes that are all in some way related to the group. None of them are directly related to each other. His presence for all three is pure coincidence. And this happens over a period of two days.
- In Investigations, in the final case of the game, an incredibly important piece of evidence comes from a box of hot dogs given to you by Wendy Oldbag. These hot dogs just so happen to have a single drop of blood, perfectly centered on a Japanese fan design to make it look like a fan with the symbol of the rising sun on it, and nowhere else. And Oldbag just so happened to take this one just before they were all confiscated by the embassy staff.
- Apollo's entire life story. Born abroad to a magician and a musician, his father dies and his mother is unable to find him, eventually going back home and having another child with her colleague. He spends some time abroad with a foster family before somehow ending up in the American foster system, meeting his best friend. He then becomes apprentice to a distinguished attorney. Sounds normal enough, except fast forward fifteen or so years, and he ends up under the tutelage of Phoenix, who's been planning to ruin his mentor Kristoph's life after Kristoph ruined his seven years ago. Phoenix was disbarred because of presenting forged evidence during his defense of Zak, Apollo's mother's second husband, and has adopted Trucy, Apollo's half-sister. Their mother Thalassa, thought dead, turns up amnesiac and blind as a witness in a case they're handling. Apollo's best friend Clay is murdered in a chain of events that end up acquitting Simon Blackquill and help usher in the end of the Dark Age of the Law. And let's not get started on how the time he spent in Khura'in affects the revolution that happens in the sixth game. To be fair, though, Apollo himself isn't aware of his biological family being so close to him; Phoenix knows but is deliberately keeping it from him.
- The final case in Apollo Justice is full of this. To recap, Kristoph Gavin gives Drew Misham a stamp that is laced with atroquinine, to ensure he would be silenced before being able to talk about the forgery Kristoph ordered. However, Kristoph happened to pick a stamp that depicts Vera Misham's favourite magicians, so Drew ends up not using the stamp, and instead keeping it in a frame. Fast forward seven years (and a trial that ends up sending Kristoph to prison) later, and Drew decides to send a letter to Kristoph. However, he doesn't have a stamp so he decides to use the one he had framed... so he ends up dead. At the same time, Phoenix Wright is trying to introduce the juror system to court and finds out about Drew's death. He picks that case to test the system so that he could implicate Kristoph in his murder, as well as the aforementioned forgery that got Phoenix disbarred... and succeeds. All because of a man that picked the wrong stamp, and another man that forgot to buy a spare stamp.
- Subverted in Canvas 2; it's implied that Kiri started working at Nadesico precisely because Hiroki worked there and she wanted to see him again.
- Only partially invoked in Hotel Dusk: Room 215. While the arrival of many of the guests is indeed sheer coincidence, several of them had or were arranged to arrive on that specific date.
- In Last Window, Kyle just ends up happening to stay at the apartments where his father was murdered 25 years ago. This gets a lampshade from Rex Foster, who finds it a bit hard to swallow that Kyle moved there without knowing the connection.
- In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, one of the students' last names(Celestia "Celeste" Ludenberg's real name) happens to be the same as another student's given name(Yasuhiro "Hiro" Hagakure). What's more, a third party, a dying Hifumi Yamada, just so happens say that name when identifying the culprit of the case as he is dying, and everyone assumes that the person in question is Hiro, who the culprit had sought to frame for the crime.
- Super Mario Bros. Z had one in the second episode when Mario, at the mercy of Bowser and his metal powers, is saved by the arrival on Sonic and Shadow's capsule, which crash-lands on Bowser's head and shatters his metal coating, giving Mario a chance to fight back.
- In a Running Gag in Final Fantasy Trilogy, Sabin, Setzer and Terra survive their falls off Narshe's cliffs by landing on Relm, Relm's corpse and Strago respectively.
- In the volume 2 episode "A Minor Hiccup", the protagonist drops her phone, and Penny just happens to be the person, in a crowd of dozens, who picks it up, thus drawing the two into a plot-important conversation even though Penny had been ordered not to talk to her.
- In the volume 5 episode "Lighting the Fire", Yang finally meets up with her estranged mother Raven, only to discover that Raven's bandit clan has kidnapped Yang's friend Weiss. Last either of them checked, they were on different continents.
Weiss: Your mom kidnapped me?!
Yang: [to Raven, outraged] You kidnapped her!?
- In Courier's Mind: Rise of New Vegas, The Courier notices that both sides of the "NO VACANCY" sign in Novac are damaged in such a way that they both say "NO VAC." The Courier supposes that whoever found the place probably intentionally damaged one side of the sign in such a way for the sake of publicity.
- In "The Review Must Go On", Doug is completely alone and vulnerable to The Nostalgia Critic breaking him into bringing him back, while at the exact same time his co-writer and brother Rob is in NYC and so unavailable to talk to.
- In the Screen Rant Pitch Meetings video for The Force Awakens, an exchange between the Producer and the Scriptwriter describes "a string of coincidences" that more or less summarizes the entire plot of the film. For example, BB-8, the droid with a piece of the map to Luke's location, happens to be found by Rey on Jakku, while Poe being captured leads Finn to a "spiritual awakening" that results in him breaking Poe out and crashing onto Jakku, where Finn finds Rey.