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 protagonist will indeed make it out of the burning plane alive and the antagonist 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? 🙂

 

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Living that Bookish Life

Someone asked me on Goodreads how I got into reading and writing, and I felt like blogging my answer.

So how did I get started in this bookish life, hmm? I’d say my parents are the guilty parties here. They both were readers.

My mom took me and my siblings down to the public library for books since we were quite little, and we had a family reading club for years. My dad would put up a new calendar in the kitchen each month where we’d write our initials down every time we finished a book, and a running total for each family member was at the bottom of the calendar.

Every time one of us kids finished ten books, we’d get some sort of little prize, but when it came down to it, it wasn’t about the prizes. Even when the reading club eventually phased out, we kept on reading. My uncle once joked that he’d never seen kids who were so excited to get books for Christmas!

As for my writing, if I had to pinpoint a time when I got started, it was when I was eight years old. I had to write a story for school, using specific spelling words, and my dad seemed to think the story was rather good. (He kept the story–still has it, in fact.)

I’ve been writing stories ever since. I just put book covers on them now. 🙂

 

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The Downside to Becoming a Better Writer

Yes, I absolutely believe in striving to become better at what you do! When it comes to writing, it seems I’ve always heard a lot about authors continually working to improve their craft, no matter how long they’ve been in the game.

However, before I was published, I didn’t hear much about how it actually feels when you, as a published author, do improve. When you’ve learned more, and you’ve lived more. When your passion and style has hit a stride on a whole ‘nother level (ahhh, yes!)—and then you think about or look back at your earlier, published work…and see all the things you could’ve done differently. (Ahhh…oh?)

Yup. What was once my absolute best work, years ago, is now years behind where I am today as a writer. And as a person. When you believe in all of your work, you can’t just leave the older stuff high and dry like it doesn’t matter anymore. It does matter. Still, as you promote an older book of yours, you may be thinking, “But please, dear readers, particularly any brand new dear readers: if you should notice my weaknesses here, do be so kind as not to prejudge all of my other writing, based on this.”

If only an author’s earlier material could all magically revise itself as the author continues to publish better and better work.

Now, lest anyone should think, “Oh. So this is her way of confessing that her older books aren’t as great as she thought they were, so I won’t waste my time reading them”—no. That’s not what I’m getting at. While I may be improving as a writer and as a human being, I’ve never been an idiot. 😀 I wouldn’t have published a book if it wasn’t any good. And, yeah. All of my books are good. (Author bias, here? Perhaps. But even one’s bias can be informed, and quality literature has been informing this bibliophile ever since she learned the alphabet. Besides, I firmly believe that authors should firmly believe in their work, or else they shouldn’t be publishing it.)

Anyhow, and thankfully, I think many readers do realize that authors grow as they go, just like anyone or anything else in life. I do reread my own books for pleasure, and I pay attention to my readers’ feedback. So if I find or am alerted to an error that truly matters in an older book of mine, yes, I’ll correct it. One of the perks of independent publishing, there. As for areas in my older writing that could’ve been better but that don’t really need to be changed now, I make a note of those areas for future writing. Then I have to breathe, know that my older writing is what it is, and know that it’s okay. I was a good writer when I published it, and I’m an even better writer now. That’s life.

With that said, I do think there are good reasons for authors to go back to revise older books, at times. I myself have revised and published new editions of some of my work. Even so, if you want to be a prolific author, it won’t be possible to keep going back to revise everything you’ve ever published. Therefore, you’ve got to have grace with yourself. Know that there’s no such thing as a book that’s perfect to everyone, and your older books don’t have to be perfect in order to keep making a positive impact in readers’ lives.

You were a good writer back when you published it. And you’re an even better writer now.

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Here are two love stories, second editions of books that are even better now: Yella’s Prayers and World of the Innocent.

  

 

Diversity and Christian Publishing

Diversity and Christian Publishing

So! I was in a discussion at what has become one of my favorite blogs, Diversity Between the Pages. The latest chat posed a question, asking why ethnically diverse Christian Fiction is so important. I’ve blogged about this topic before, and I wanted to post my answer from last Saturday’s discussion here, slightly edited to make more sense as a standalone post. 🙂

Among other good reasons for publishing more diverse books, I don’t think Christian publishing would want to fall on the wrong side of history.

By that, I mean like Crusaders who murdered people in the name of Christ in medieval times. Or unscrupulous Church leaders who contributed to the need for the Protestant Reformation. Or preachers in the U.S. who condoned and pushed for American slavery over the pulpit. I know those examples may sound like extreme comparisons to fiction publishing, but I believe the principle is comparable. In super-simplified and understated terms, when we don’t value humanity as we should, the legacy we leave isn’t too pretty.

The Bible speaks of those from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” who were redeemed by Christ (Revelation 5:9, NASB). I think it’s important for Christian Fiction to reflect that kind of diversity—especially now, at a critical time when there’s a struggle and a fight going on for the rights, the dignity, and the very lives of people of color. We wouldn’t want Christian publishing’s legacy to be, “At that critical time, we still shied away from publishing diverse books because it didn’t make sense to us, money wise,” or “We didn’t think it was essential,” or “We discussed it but couldn’t get our ducks in a row to make it happen.”

Now, I’m not saying that Christian publishing is deliberately devaluing humanity. Or that no one in Christian publishing sees the seriousness of the time we’re living in. But I do think it’s important to consider the picture we’re painting that people will look at, years down the road. Will the books we’ve published indeed reflect that we value all humanity? What will the lens of history reveal about what we’ve produced—and what we haven’t?

Even as I’m mentioning “the wrong side of history,” I don’t think Christian publishing has to come at this from a negative angle, producing from a place of what we don’t want to be, or just trying not to paint a bad picture. But literature is a huge part of any crucial point or movement in history. How positive and powerful a message it would send should Christian Fiction become more dynamically diverse now!

And when I talk about Christian publishing, yeah, I’m including myself. There’s so much more writing and publishing I need to do.