Wednesday, November 27, 2013


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 happy ending.

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.


  1. You're right, Paula, most genre books are predictable--even tragedies--and I think that's why we like them. We know what we're getting, just not exactly sure how.

  2. Exactly, and that's why it bugs me when people are scathing about romances being predictable, as if that doesn't apply to other genres!

  3. Maybe the "predictability" means just what you've said, Paula. If the reader can forecast to early how the plot will unfold to the HEA, then they "predicted" it, and it becomes "predictable." The surprises, the unexpected twists--those make for a satisfying read.

  4. You're right, Ana - so now I just have to work out some unexpected twist in my current WIP!

  5. I agree that romance books can be predictable. Like you said, the happily ever after is a guarantee. And to some extent, all romances are fairly formulaic. Which is a big reason a lot of people read them. They like the predictability. The guarantee. The escape from real life.

    However, the way we get our to our HEA is where we can go a bit off the beaten path. It's up to us to throw in some surprising twists and turns along the way. And if we can make the reader wonder how in the word our hero and heroine are ever going to get together...all the better.

  6. That's a good point about people liking the predictability and guarantee of the happy ending, Debra. However, I still don't understand why that predictability can be scorned by critics of romance novels, when predictable endings of other genres is acceptable!

  7. Romance is the best selling genre of books. Critics can throw all the stones they want, but they can't argue with sales figures.

  8. I have to say that I do tend to gravitate toward a twist or two. I don't know why, it just seems to turn out that way.