Predictability in Fiction

I often say that readers are entitled to their preferences and what they choose to read or not to read. So, even though I write some romance, I don’t think all readers should prefer that genre just because it’s something I write.

Even so, I was prompted to write this blog post because I often hear fellow readers say things like, “I don’t read romance because it’s predictable. You already know the guy and girl are going to end up together.”

True, you already know that fact beforehand, but predictable outcomes aren’t exactly exclusive to the romance genre. Besides, I think there’s a difference between a predictable outcome and a predictable story. I appreciate it when an author can weave originality and unpredictability together on the way to what may be a predictable outcome.

For instance, if you read an adventure or literary novel called Wreck of the Seafaring Vessel, you already know beforehand that the ship is going to wreck. But when the author can make you CARE about the fact that the ship will wreck, can make you wish that it wouldn’t wreck even though you already know it’s going to (or can ironically make you GLAD that the ship will wreck, even though you never thought you’d feel that way), can help you to deeply empathize with the complex characters on the ship through their backstories and emotions and motives–then you get something fresh, thought-provoking, and memorable out of the novel. The outcome, or an aspect of the outcome, is predictable, but overall, it isn’t a predictable story.

I look for the same thing in romance. I know the outcome, or an aspect of the outcome, but I want something fresh and thought-provoking along the way.

As far as predictability goes, much the same can be said for many suspense, thriller, and mystery novels, where readers especially like to be surprised. Before you even start the book, you pretty much know the major aspect of the outcome: the good guy is going to catch or put a stop to the bad guy, solve the murder case, prevent the enemy operation from blowing up the ocean, or what have you. In, say, 999 books out of 1,000, no matter how many thrilling car chases there are, how many kidnappers set out to blindfold and tie people up, or how many airplanes spontaneously combust in the sky, you already know that none of those dangers are going to kill the protagonist right smack in the middle of the novel. But when I read a thriller or a suspense or mystery novel, it doesn’t matter if I already know the hero will indeed make it out of the burning plane alive and the villain will inevitably get caught. I just want something fresh and thought-provoking on the way to seeing the inevitable take place. A predictable outcome, but not a predictable story.

Again, if romance simply isn’t your thing, then it simply isn’t your thing. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve considered predictability alone to be the issue, then perhaps it’s had more to do with the overall style or storytelling in the romances you’ve read, and less to do with the inevitable outcomes. Perhaps it’s had more to do with particular books or authors, and whether or not those were the right books and authors for you, and less to do with the romance genre as a whole.

I believe it’s just as possible to write a fresh and unpredictable romance as it is to write a fresh and unpredictable suspense or mystery novel, since it’s not merely about what happens in the end (the guy and girl get together, the detective wins and the murderer loses, etc.) It’s about the journey or process toward that outcome.

Does that make sense? 🙂

 

4 thoughts on “Predictability in Fiction

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Thanks, Roberta! And I imagine that the more books a person reads and/or the longer that person has been around, the harder it becomes to shock or surprise them. They’ve “seen it all” already. 😀 So the continued joy of reading has to do with more than whether or not that reader will foresee a certain outcome beforehand. 🙂

      Like

  1. markrhunter says:

    Interesting way of putting it. It drives me crazy when people say it’s predictable because they know there’s going to be a happy ending, as with romances. I *like* happy endings, but I don’t like predictability–it’s all about the journey.

    Liked by 1 person

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