Paula asks: How predictable are your novels?
I would contend that all novels are predictable to some
extent. Detectives solve their cases, criminals/murderers are brought to
justice, mysteries are solved, the ‘goodies’ win and the ‘baddies’ lose. People
want satisfying (and ‘happy’) endings, whether they are reading murder,
mystery, thrillers, western, or whatever (unless they are reading tragedies, of course)
Why, then, are romance novels sometimes patronisingly referred to
as ‘predictable’? What’s so different between a detective solving his case (happy ending), and a couple overcoming whatever problems confront them
in order to be together (happy ending)?
Jane Eyre came back to Mr Rochester, Elizabeth and Darcy
were reunited –were those endings predictable? Yes, of course they were, but does
anyone complain about that?
A romance story, by its very definition, needs a happy ending.
Of course, the important thing is how we actually get to
that happy ending, and this is where the unpredictability may come in. The reader
should start to wonder how on earth the hero and heroine are ever going to
resolve the problems or conflicts we’ve thrown at them in order to reach their
In the case of Jane Eyre, she leaves Thornfield, certain
there is no future for herself and Rochester once she learns about his wife. In
Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet
turns down Darcy’s proposal in the most scathing manner imaginable. These are
the points where the reader, like the characters themselves, is left thinking
that all is lost.
Of course, it isn’t, but readers don't need to turn to the last page to find out if the characters finally get together. They know they will, but this is where writers must use their
powers of ingenuity to find a way to bring the heroine and hero together again.
It can’t be contrived or coincidental, and it can’t happen until the problems
(either internal or external) have been resolved, otherwise it will seem too easy – and therefore predictable.
Every romance needs a ‘twist in the tail’, something that will surprise the
reader near the end – and not a fairy godmother who waves her wand to solve
everything for them! Having the reader thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t expect that”,
is the way to make your romance novels UNpredictable.