So, here’s a point to ponder. Is it better to use a formula that your reader can guess—or at least infer—or should you twist your story enough that everything that happens is a surprise? Or, maybe, should you shoot for somewhere in-between?
Imagine a story line where a young couple makes plans to start anew, together, under extreme circumstances. As “fate” would have it, however, something interferes, and one or the other is whisked away to places unknown. The remaining partner goes through a period of grief, spends all the remaining fortune, and expends great energy looking for the other, but not a clue is found. Not a single clue.
Dejected the one left behind joins the military to serve and forget, is shipped to a wild, foreign and far-flung locale, and one day sees the missing one. It is only a matter of time then, well, time and extreme effort, and some serious loss along the way, but the two are reunited, and finally, hand in hand, go off to rebuild their life plans.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve just about had my fill of that story. This in no way means I won’t write it one day, I think we all must write something like it once in a while. But, come on! World-spanning coincidence? Don’t even bother trying to work out the odds. They’re outrageous!
I guess the question is, what better serves drama, excitement—story—long odds coincidence? Suspension of disbelief? Turning impossible circumstances into a fell-good story?
I wonder if a more realistic story line might be appropriate from time to time. Perhaps the guy finds the girl, but she’s moved on, believing him lost, and now has given her heart away to someone new.
Maybe the hero never finds the missing person, but instead grows in skill and reputation as a finder of lost persons… serving humanity despite his grief.
What I’m getting at is, 1) it doesn’t always have to be a traditional happy ending – but your characters need to change and grow, and 2) sometimes a coincidence is just too far-fetched.