Predictability: The Good, the Bad and the Stupid

There is one thing that will stop me reading a book dead in my tracks. I could be halfway through the book but the moment this happens, it makes me throw a book away from me in a fit of rage:


I mean, there are some things which get to me, like non-relatable characters or zero character development, cheesy one-liners....

Horatio Cane: The King of One Liners

.... and bad puns, (Not to be confused with good puns.)

But I don't want to know the plot.
I don't want to expect the plot, and most of all, I don't want to know anymore about the ending other than, "the bad guys probably lose."

When you are young and learning how to read books, predictability is your best friend. It helps you learn as you begin to find patterns in what you are reading.

"I wonder if the rest of the book is about fish..."
See. Not even Dr. Suess is predictable.
As a kid, predictability teaches you about tropes, and symbolism and stock characters: the hooker with a heart of gold, the antagonist with their imbecilic side-kick, the peacocking rake, the blind fortune teller. You get it. But the point of this, is to know when to use them. We've advanced beyond the roman empire. Our characters now are expected to have depth.

If I am in the middle of a novel and I have predicted how it will end, I will keep reading just long enough to determine if I am correct, and then never pick up that book again. And I don't mean, "the good guy get's the girl!"
Nor say, watching Titanic and wondering if the boat sinks.
Nor say, halfway through The Notebook when you put together that the old man reading the story is Noah from the story. That I still want to watch unfold.

In fact, I always want to experience the heart wrench of a romantic tragedy...

....Maybe not all of it.
I think the problem with most stories is they're showing all the cards, or dropping too many hints, and it is mistaken for foreshadowing. This is way more obvious in film. For instance, when they linger a little too long on something left behind, and now it's clear that it's important, so you start to put the pieces together until - Yep, I know what's gonna happen at the end. It's unavoidable in film. The subtle nuance of writing cannot be re-created in film. In the book, that part is glossed over. At no point does the book say, "And as Charlie left the room, he forgot the key to his house on his dresser." It's later in the story when he checks his pocket and can't find it and realizes he's locked out.

The problem with predictability in the story it that it ruins the surprise. Yes, I want the protagonist to win, but I don't want to know HOW right off the bat. Like, the antagonist is made of ice, and *conveniently enough* the protagonist can throw flames from their fingertips.

Liz gets it.

I feel like stories become predictable through convenience. If your plot was convenient, you need to rethink it. Like the carpenter phrase, measure twice, cut once. You don't want your reader to predict what will happen, so don't use your first idea with the plot. Think about something less convenient or form a puzzle for the reader. Make them question your motives and whether you would dare murder the dog or best friend.....



I hate when writers do this. Enough bad things are happening in the plot, usually it's the end of the world and there is a child that probably lost their parents and loves the dog -- Don't kill the damn dog. You can make us think the dog is dead, that's fine - Re: Homeward Bound - I will cry like a baby thinking the dog is dead and be happily heart warmed when he returns, but if you kill the dog? That's the last book of yours I will read. No joke. I will have a vendetta against you from then on.

"Hey, want to read a book by this person?"
"Nope. The dog died in the last book."

Ex: My Dog Skip, Marley and Me, Old Yeller.

Good rule of thumb: If you're lazy, and want to make an adult cry and hate you, then go ahead, kill the dog.

Back to the point: The best way to avoid predictability when you're drawing up a plot is to never go with your first idea. You are bound by no one, this is YOUR story. In the end, you may still end up copying The Simpsons, but so has everyone else.

Now for the Good:

While predictability is a very bad thing in books, there is the exception to this annoyance: Pop music.

Pop songs need to be predictable, that's their whole selling point. As the linked article states, " . . . if the music has some recognizable features—maybe a familiar beat or melodic structure—people will more likely be able to anticipate the song’s emotional peaks and enjoy it more. The dopamine hit comes from having their predictions confirmed—or violated slightly, in intriguing ways."

So thank YOU Taylor Swift for having such predictable music.
Some exceptional lyrics from Ms. Swift:
"Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods yet?
Are we out of the woods?"

Don't get me wrong -- Nothing helps me clean the house like 1989 (which I bought a week after it came out). Nothing keeps me in a perky mood in the morning like randomly 'shaking it off' on my commute.

So if you hate pop music for being predictable, remember, it's written to do exactly that.... And your brain likes it.

All my love,


  1. Great post, LB! Along with "Don't go with your first idea," my other rule of thumb is: "If the idea isn't exciting to you as the author, it won't be exciting to the reader." Go with the idea that excites you.

    1. That's such a good point! It seems so straight forward, if you don't like it, who will? That's when you're, "writing for the sake of writing."
      I am a big fan of taking breaks. You can't be 100% all the time!


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