Wednesday, October 19, 2016

P is for Predictability

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, western, or whatever (unless they are reading tragedies, of course)

Why then are romance novels sometimes sneeringly referred to as ‘predictable’? What’s so different between a detective solving his case i.e. happy ending, and a couple overcoming whatever conflicts/problems confront them in order to be together i.e. 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, 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 comes 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 – and 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 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 the ending of your novels UNpredictable. 


  1. I think some of the 'trick' is that even though your readers know there's going to be a happy ending, to create enough tension, drama, conflict that they wonder how in the world that will ever happen.

    I have to say, my novels are pretty predictable...even in the grand scheme of romance writing. Maybe that's something I need to work on.

    1. Agree about the tension, drama and conflict - which should continue until all is resolved.

  2. Someone once said 'It's the journey that's important.'
    I think people buy romances to enjoy love's journey.
    People who say romances are "predictable" must not read the sales statistics.

  3. I agree, it's how we get them to their happily ever after that is the unpredictable part.

    1. Yes, especially if we throw enough obstacles in their way!

  4. But not putting insurmountable obstacles in their way! We all know the ending we wish to achieve, the craft and skill comes in writing the journey that takes you there