Is “predictable” always bad?

 by Rebecca S. Buck

Hi everyone. I’ve been asked to post this blog (which I published on my own blog yesterday) to the BSB authors’ blog. So here you go! I would love to hear everyone’s opinions on this one!😀

Writers shouldn’t read reviews of their work.

It’s excellent advice. It’s also incredibly difficult to stick to when you see that someone has written a new review. I suspect it’s even harder for new writers than it is for the ones who are old hands at this. Curiosity can just get too much. Because writers thrive on feedback too. And I care what my readers think…I want to listen, to learn, to improve…I don’t want to to disappoint people who do me the honour of buying and reading my book.

So I just read a reader’s review of my first novel, Truths (published April 2010 from Bold Strokes Books), on Amazon.com (you can read the review here). It’s mostly a very good review and I’m very grateful indeed to the lady called Beth from LA who wrote it and gave me 4 stars out of 5 and said I was a “promising” writer. However, in her last paragraph, she describes my novel as “predictable”.

Which got me thinking. I’m not going to debate the question of Truths being predictable. I guess that depends very much on each individual reader. I’ve had other readers tell me that certain aspects of the way the novel concludes took them by surprise. And, honestly, I would agree that some parts of the book are predictable. You know–more or less–how it’s going to turn out, from at least half way through.

That’s not really what I’ve been thinking about. What I’ve been debating with myself is this: Is “predictable” necessarily a bad thing for a novel to be?

I constantly read reviews on the backs of books and in the front matter proclaiming how “unexpected” certain plot twists were…how wonderful it is that the reader is kept guessing…how shocking the ending of a novel is…how clever for being so surprising. Clearly readers–at least those who write reviews considered worthy of reprinting–enjoy a novel that twists and turns and takes them by surprise. I’ve enjoyed novels like that myself. One of the best is Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith. The twists in that novel are real shocks when they come and it’s a delight to read.

But sometimes I like the comfort of a “predictable” read too. Fingersmith isn’t my favourite of Waters’s books precisely because the twists startle me so much. I don’t necessarily mean I need a simple story. I don’t mean one without any twists or unexpected happenings at all. But isn’t it sometimes nice to know what’s going to happen? To get the happy ending you’re hoping for? It’s comfortable and unchallenging perhaps. But does a book always have to be a challenge? Does it always have to shake you up to be a good read? Some of the classics of literature are really predictable. I knew Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy were going to get together from the time they danced together at the Netherfield ball. Jane Eyre was going to end up in the arms of Mr. Rochester from the moment they met on the road to Thornfield. The events of the novel–a younger sister’s elopment or a mad wife in the attic–we can’t forsee. But we know how we want the novel to end…and it’s a good feeling when we get what we want.

I’m not comparing myself as a writer with Austen and Bronte. I’m actually talking about my experience as a reader. I’m not a fan of most mystery fiction or crime fiction because most of it goes out of its way to keep me guessing. Sometimes it feels like a plot twists just for the sake of it. Sometimes I don’t want to be a detective. I just want some entertainment. That doesn’t mean it can’t be thought provoking or touch my heart. It can be intelligent and unusual. It can be educational and stimulating. It just means I don’t always need to be surprised to enjoy a good read. A plot can keep me guessing what I’m going to discover in the next chapter, even when I sense I know where those chapters are leading to.

Knowing the destination doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the journey.

Rebecca

www.rebeccasbuck.com

First posted on www.rebeccasb.wordpress.com

9 Responses to “Is “predictable” always bad?”


  1. 1 jfaraday January 26, 2011 at 1:33 PM

    I think the value of ‘predictable’ depends on the mood of the reader. Sometimes I want to be surprised when I read. Sometimes I want the comfort of the familiar.

    ‘Predictability’ also depends on the experience of the reader. A woman in my writing group worries that certain twists in the plot of her novel are unbearable clichés–which they well might be for someone who reads a lot in that genre. I don’t, so I found the twists new and unexpected.

    And sometimes we can all see the ending coming, but the surprises are in the journey.

    If the reviewer gave you 4 stars out of 5, it sounds like the predictability she perceived–which another reader might not– didn’t ruin the book for her. 4 out or 5 is excellent–well done, you!

    Like

    • 2 rebeccasb January 26, 2011 at 1:38 PM

      Thank you!
      It’s mostly a very good review and I was incredibly grateful for 4 out of 5 stars!
      That was why the use of the term “predictable” made me think. Good or bad?
      I think you’re right that it’s something very subjective. I’m sure every reader feels differently, and their opinion probably changes from one book to another.

      Like

  2. 3 bookgeek January 26, 2011 at 3:15 PM

    After an adrenaline filled day and dealing with the unpredictable at work I am quite happy to read predictable romances etc. BUT even if predictable there can be a world of difference in the writing itself. Although predictable some books are simply delightful.
    BTW my partner who has a very quiet life likes the twisted, nerve-racking unpredictable thrillers .
    Henriette

    Like

    • 4 rebeccasb January 26, 2011 at 7:02 PM

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts😀
      I agree totally…it’s about the quality of the writing and the plot far more than whether you know where that plot is leading…
      And maybe we look for something in books we don’t have in our real day to day lives. My life’s a bit unpredictable right now, so I want a comforting read!

      Like

  3. 5 bookgeek January 26, 2011 at 3:23 PM

    After an adrenaline filled day and dealing with the unpredictable at work I am quite happy to read predictable romances etc. BUT even if predictable there can be a world of difference in the writing itself. Although predictable some books are simply delightful.
    BTW my partner who has a very quiet life likes the twisted, nerve-racking unpredictable thrillers .

    Like

  4. 6 Carol January 26, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    Predictability…hmm…
    I like predictibilty in my lesbian fiction, actually. I’m talking more about trusting the author to give me what I expect more than a recognizable plot or characters.
    I require happy endings in my fiction. An author that offers twists and turns and unpredictable behavior from her characters is one I do enjoy, but I need, in the end, to have happiness and love.

    Like

    • 7 rebeccasb January 26, 2011 at 7:04 PM

      I love happy endings too. I like a novel to be optimistic in its conclusion…
      And–as a writer–I am very aware of the fact that readers are trusting me to deliver what they want. It’s part of the reason I have these sorts of debates with myself!
      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!😀

      Like

  5. 8 Jo January 27, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    I like to know the the characters are going to get together in the end but sometimes I like there to be a few twists in story on the way to them getting together.

    Like

    • 9 rebeccasb January 27, 2011 at 5:55 PM

      I think you’re right Jo. I don’t want every chapter of a story to be predictable, but it doesn’t detract from a novel if I suspect I know how it’s going to end, as long as it’s well written! It’s always nice in a romance to know that the characters are going to end up together!😀

      Like


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