Have you ever wondered how and when to use coincidence as a story element? It may seem like a cheat or even a Deus ex-Machina, but that’s not always true. Domestic Girlfriend shows us how and when to use it!
Domestic Girlfriend (Analysis) – What a Coincidence!
It’s hard not to notice the coincidences piling up in Domestic Girlfriend. The main conflict in the story was created by a coincidence… well, a couple of them, actually. Firstly, there was Hina. Natsuo loved Hina and had done so for some time. However, she saw him as a child and that crushed him. So, when a random girl at a mixer invited him back to her house to have sex, he did it. There was no chance that it would ever get back to Hina… or was there.
So, we had two seemingly unrelated incidents but as we soon learnt, they were related, and in more ways than one. Firstly, Hina and Rui (the random hookup) are sisters and Natsuo’s father just married their mother. Awkward! However, this is where it gets good. The reason Rui wanted to have sex was that Hina had told her she was too young to understand when Rui confronted Hina about her affair with a married man. So, she went out and had sex so she would understand. See there is a connection.
But that was nothing, this series was just getting going. Natsuo was frustrated that Hina was dating a guy who was treating her badly. Why was she with that guy when he would be so much better for her? He took this frustration to his friend, Fumiya. Fumiya told him about all the relationships he had seen at the cafe and how there were so many guys that were just the same. Then, it turned out that one of these guys was Hina’s boyfriend and he was married. Everything came crashing together in one glorious moment. It all made sense.
So, that’s a whole bunch of coincidences that come together to make Natsuo’s life difficult, but was that lazy writing? I’ve seen reviewers say that it was. Some even dared to call them Deus ex-Machina moments, but that just showed that they didn’t actually understand what a Deus ex-Machina is. For reference, it’s a term that was used when a god-like character was lowered onto the stage during a play to get the main character out of a pickle. There was usually no foreshadowing and this character solved all the problems. That is lazy writing and you do still see it a lot.
So, what makes this different? Well, as far as I’m concerned these coincidences did not solve any issues so that makes them different. In life, coincidences happen all the time so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see them in fiction. Of course, you need to avoid the ones that solve a seemingly impossible situation as that leaves the audience feeling cheated. We want to see how the hero overcomes the problem. If the answer is simply handed to them it takes away from the struggle that will inevitably bond us with the hero.
By using coincidences to create more conflict, the author is giving us more reason to side with the hero. It looks like the universe is conspiring against them, making them the underdog, and who doesn’t want to cheer for the underdog? Making all of these issues related ties the story together more so I don’t see a problem with using coincidences in this instance.
My advice then with regards to using coincidences in storytelling is to use them to pile more troubles on the hero. Use them to make it look like everyone and everything is conspiring against them. It’ll give you a bigger mountain to climb, but it will be worth it. Most of the time, we want to see the hero succeed and the bigger the challenge the greater the pay off providing we’ve seen them earn it. The only notable exception to this is in comedy. BOFURI does this well, but it’s usually where Maple already accidentally completed the mission or acquired the solution earlier. No one gave it to her. She had to work.
In short, use coincidences to create problems not solve them. That is not a Deus ex-Machina. Anyhow, if you’re interested in seeing it in action, I would recommend watching Domestic Girlfriend. The first four episodes do an incredible job of conspiring against Natsuo. What are your thoughts on coincidences in storytelling?