The Pleasure of Predictable Writing

We all love a good plot twist, don’t we? Being taken by surprise is a wonderful feeling when it’s done well in a book, movie, TV show, etc. We love it so much, in fact, that it’s being pushed as the norm.

Plots are expected to have so many twists and turns that you struggle to keep up; it’s the merit of a good show nowadays. A quick google search of “Why are plot twists…” comes up with “good”, “effective”, and “important”. Clearly, a trend.

Before we dive in, I’m turning the question over to you. Do you like plot twists? Do you think good writing has to have a plot that you cannot predict?

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I’ll tell you what I think: I don’t like plot twists.

That’s not entirely true. I enjoy a good plot twist now and again, but more often than not, a plot that follows the current norm isn’t something that I enjoy. I don’t like stories that twist and turn so many times that each twist ends up kinking the hose and messing up the flow of the story.

The story is the heart of the novel, movie or show and it must always be that way. Captivating cinematography, mesmerizing wordplay, and ingenious character design will only take me so far. I like a good story and when I feel like I’m drowning and unable to make out up from down, I’m not having fun.

Here are two TV examples.

The OA is phenomenally done. It’s magical and feels so much larger than life. It encourages me to think, dream, and guess while having so many captivating characters and gorgeous cinematography. Even if I wanted to, when I watched the OA I couldn’t predict the next scene, the next image, and certainly not the end of an episode or season. It was wonderfully creative and, most importantly, the plot twists did not undermine the story. Not once.

Now, Supernatural (one of my favorite shows mind you) has had its fair share of plot twists. Without spoiling anything, the plot twists that were terrible were the ones that undermined the plot, served no purpose (no character growth or plot development), and/or were solely for shock value. They’ve had plenty of things they’ve thrown at the audience for no real, clear purpose.

What does all this even mean?

It means that plot twists are well and good but that they aren’t a literary device like imagery that can be used often and without much forethought. A lot like comedy, random doesn’t equal funny and plot twist doesn’t equate to a good novel. A good plot shouldn’t rest on a twist (or multiple twists) to make it interesting. A good plot should be strong without the twists.

All this to say, I love predictable writing.

This brings me to my second point: boring writing isn’t just predictable.

Stale writing has a lot working against it. Normally, dry, flat prose fills the pages. The characters aren’t engaging and the dialogue isn’t believable. The plot is uninteresting and unrealistic. And often times, the pacing is completely off. It’s boring and predictable.

So why would I enjoy that?

I don’t. I don’t enjoy that sort of writing at all. However, like a good symphony or techno track, you can feel the movement of the art and writing is the same way. There are patterns that we see over and over. When I read writing that is patterned, I enjoy it. Maybe I can’t predict every reaction or action, but I can feel it coming. I can understand the subtle movement within the music of the book. That’s incredibly important.

It’s that music that carries you through a book. It’s also that music that gets mixed poorly or ripped away entirely when there are ten thousand surprises.

Writing is good if you can guess what’s going to happen because it has led you up to that point. It’s good if it’s led you to guess one thing and swapped it for another. But writing is never bad just because you are able to see where it’s guiding you.

As writers, we aren’t trying to outsmart our readers and prove how much better we are than them and when we do try and do that, they know it. The point of writing a story with twists and turns isn’t to trick the reader and do something completely out of line with the rest of the groundwork we’ve laid. No one likes a story that doesn’t add up no matter how many different ways you look at it.

That being said, check out my other stuff by clinking one of the months below. If you liked this, let me know! If there’s anything you want me to write about, leave it in the comments. Otherwise, have a great day, friends!

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