Predictability - Good or Bad?

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Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby PAstrychef » Wed Jun 17, 2009 4:31 pm UTC

There are several authors whose work I love, who nonetheless often have extremely predictable parts to their stories. Lee Child's Jack Reacher will get in a big fight, and he will win-because that's who Reacher is. Once in 14 novels I found the knowledge that Reacher would win made the fight sequence seem silly to me. Lincoln Childs (no relation) solo and also in his collaborations with Douglas Preston usually has something escape and start killing people. As I listen to his latest on audiobook I'm betting with myself which irritating character will get killed first, and who will make it to the end of the novel. Romance novels also have predictable plots-but those are set by genre requirements (although no less restricting to the author)
So- do you find this type of predictability irritating or reassuring? I know that it's a huge selling point to 12-16 year old readers from my time working in the children's room at the library. I can pinpoint the bad guy in a murder mystery with 98% accuracy because I've read so many of them. I still love to read them.
Personally I think a good author can pull it off and bad authors use it as a crutch. (I'm not talking about the Hero's Quest or other overarching themes of "literature" here, just the plotting of novels) ((but we can go there is you like))
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Re: Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby justaman » Wed Jun 17, 2009 8:53 pm UTC

Many, many authors use a similar thing in their writing. Personally, I find it kind of annoying, as once you have read one of their books, you have read them all. Famous examples of it are: Stephen King (with a few exceptions such as Shawshank Redemption), Michael Crichton, Bryce Courtney, Jean Auel... Having read one of each of these author's books, I was able to predict what would happen, more or less, at the end of the next novel I picked up. Having said that, they were still interesting reads; the details are what makes them work, but finally off-putting when I had read more than a couple.
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Re: Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby acb » Wed Jun 17, 2009 10:11 pm UTC

I actually don't mind books being predictable, unless there is a series of more than say 3 books that are all the same. Predictable films, on the other hand, I hate. I think predictable books can work because there are other things going on apart from the character that always does the same thing, or a plot you can see right through. Interesting writing is always interesting, even if you know what the character is going to do next.

What about predictability in the sense of knowing there will be a twist at the end? I find this much more annoying, as I constantly try to guess what the twist is and don't actually concentrate on what is going on.
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Re: Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Fri Jun 19, 2009 3:26 am UTC

It depends how predictable. By the third book I thought Crichton was getting a little too fond of "mysterious company in the middle of nowhere develops [technology], but it ends up hurting people, demonstrating the hubris of science/technology". (Timeline, Jurassic Park, Prey). But if it's something like you said, where the good guy always wins fights, that can be alright, because the entertaining part is how he wins.

I mean, we all know Rincewind is going to run away, Harry is going to do something self-sacrificing, and Ender is going to outthink the other guy. That doesn't make them less entertaining, unless you see Ender as wish-fulfillment, but there's another thread for that.
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Re: Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby cathrl » Sat Jun 20, 2009 2:38 pm UTC

It depends on the genre of the book. A murder mystery where you can predict who did it is pretty pointless. A Pratchett novel, where you can just see the disaster looming and are cringing as it's revealed in every last detail of awfulness, is unputdownable.
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Re: Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby Toeofdoom » Mon Jun 29, 2009 7:41 pm UTC

cathrl, I think that's not entirely the same thing: It's priveleged audience knoweledge vs a plot twist, or for that matter a plot event.

I think the ideal reaction to a plot twist is "I totally didn't see that coming, but it was so obvious!". For regular plot events, it should still be hinted at beforehand, but the reaction probably wont be as obvious.

The problem is that different people will see something before it happens given different amounts of hints. So if one writer writes books in a way that they're "all the same", as you say, they'd better be aimed at people who haven't read that writers previous books.

From the reader's point of view, it's typically a bad thing to be predictable, but no book will appeal to everyone. From the writers side, it depends who they're writing for.
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Re: Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby cathrl » Mon Jun 29, 2009 8:54 pm UTC

True.

Along similar lines, I just had a conversation with my daughter about Jacqueline Wilson's books. I said I found them all very similar. She said they were different - after all, they all have different characters in. So I asked her why she thought they all had different characters in, instead of using the same characters again and making a series, as many authors do.

"Oh," she said. "Yes, they would be a bit similar if they weren't different people."
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Re: Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby PAstrychef » Tue Jun 30, 2009 5:00 am UTC

How much does your daughter know about stereotypes and formula characters? It will be interesting to see if she becomes aware of this on her own. If she's old enough she might enjoy Campbell's Hero with 1,00 Faces, which will show her how stories fit together.
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Re: Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby animeHrmIne » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:08 am UTC

Heh. I had an entire class on the Hero's Journey in eighth grade. It was kind of awesome, actually (The only out of class homework assignment was watching all six Star Wars (we watched LotR in class)). But now I'm kind of mad, as I will be reading a book, or watching something, and I'll get to a part that clicks as "oh, that's that step", and then I'll try to plot out everything else, and then I can't just enjoy the book/movie/show.

I agree that there are different nuances and levels of predictability. Such as, I knew what the plot of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was going to be by the first page, and I still enjoyed it immensely simply because of the writing (It's like fanfiction. Two can have the exact same plot, but stylistically worlds apart). On the other hand, I hate the fact that Dan Brown's books are the exact same plot, over and over, which is especially awkward in that he is writing a series about one man who is in the exact same situation in different historically and artistically prominent cities. (I still love the books for the way that they play with history and art and the Church)
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Re: Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:42 pm UTC

animeHrmIne wrote:Heh. I had an entire class on the Hero's Journey in eighth grade. It was kind of awesome, actually (The only out of class homework assignment was watching all six Star Wars (we watched LotR in class)). But now I'm kind of mad, as I will be reading a book, or watching something, and I'll get to a part that clicks as "oh, that's that step", and then I'll try to plot out everything else, and then I can't just enjoy the book/movie/show.

TV Tropes will do similar things to you.
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Re: Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby SecondTalon » Tue Jun 30, 2009 1:50 pm UTC

animeHrmIne wrote:Heh. I had an entire class on the Hero's Journey in eighth grade. It was kind of awesome, actually (The only out of class homework assignment was watching all six Star Wars (we watched LotR in class)). But now I'm kind of mad, as I will be reading a book, or watching something, and I'll get to a part that clicks as "oh, that's that step", and then I'll try to plot out everything else, and then I can't just enjoy the book/movie/show.
While I do agree with what Campbell was doing with that book... keep in mind that it's only a step away from boiling everything down to "See, there was this person who had a conflict of some sort, maybe with other people or nature or something, and it's about that person dealing with it."

I guess what I'm saying is.... There's nothing wrong with fiction sending someone down the ol' Hero's Journey.
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Re: Predictability - Good or Bad?

Postby Atmosck » Wed Jul 01, 2009 4:45 am UTC

I think predicability is a great thing. Lots of books get too caught up on the plot that there's not much else to it (see Harry Potter, Twilight, & so on). Kurt Vonnegut likes to tell the reader exactly what is going to happen before it happens, so you spend the book waiting for what you know is going to happen to happen, which serves to highlight that the plot is not the point of the book. Galapagos and Cat's Cradle are great examples of this. Of course, not all authors are Kurt Vonnegut, so when someone not as good like Steven King is simply predictable because he's formulaic, yes, it is annoying.
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