On Predictability

TheShadowOfTheWindI’ve been reading through this book for the last week and a half (long book + slow reader [me] = 2 weeks). It was billed as a mystery when it first came out a few years ago, and although I’m not a die-hard fan of the genre I do enjoy an element of mystery in all kinds of books, including romances.

Since I haven’t yet finished it (20 pages to go!) I’m not here today to give it a review, although I can safely say I’ll be giving it a mostly positive one. It’s certainly held my interest, and the translation is excellent. But few books can satisfy every reader, so I’ve noticed a few nit-picky things that I’ll save for my GoodReads review.

Instead, I’ll talk about the element of predictability. I must admit that when I figure out what’s going to happen next, I have a very mixed reaction. One hand is busy patting myself on the back for my own brilliance while the other is either scratching my head wondering if the writer meant for me to figure it out or else is pointing an accusing finger at said author for not doing a good enough job at surprising me.

Well, as an author myself I must admit I don’t mind if a reader figures out one my twists ahead of time. I purposely include foreshadowing, or hints, along the way so whatever happens in the future won’t seem to come from outer space (i.e. anything outside the bookworld that I’ve created). I like to direct the reader to a satisfying conclusion.

But I’m not a mystery writer. I know critics will pan a book that’s “predictable” but as I’ve said this isn’t always bad in my estimation, if it’s satisfying. (This book, by the way, enjoyed critical acclaim and best seller status.)

Part of my generosity over predictability may be because I’m such an avid romance reader. I’ve been trained to expect the HEA (happily ever after). Maybe if I’d raised my reading self on mysteries I would join in the critic’s chorus and boo any book with a predictable ending.

But somehow I doubt I’d be very vociferous against most predictable endings – because of my preference over that for a satisfying ending.

What about you? Can you be satisfied with a predictable ending? And what do you consider predictable? For example, I didn’t figure out what would happen next in The Shadow of the Wind until a short time before each twist happened – so it wasn’t predictable from the start. Does that make a difference in a story’s success for you? Or, like this book for me, if the characters are interesting (even if not entirely likable) and the writing style engaging enough, does the element of being predictable matter as much?

Something to think about the next time you pick up a book billed with an element of mystery!

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About Maureen Lang

Author of a dozen novels, Maureen Lang has won the Selah Award, a Holt Medallion, FHL's Reader's Choice Award, and been a finalist in such contests as the Christy, the Rita, the Carol, Book Buyer's Best, and others. Before publication she was the recipient of a Golden Heart and a Genesis (then called the Noble Theme). She resides with her husband and kids in the Chicago area. Titles by Maureen Lang All In Good Time Bees In The Butterfly Garden Springtime Of The Spirit Whisper On The Wind Look To The East My Sister Dilly On Sparrow Hill The Oak Leaves Remember Me Pieces Of Silver
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6 Responses to On Predictability

  1. tjbrice says:

    The best mystery books that I enjoy (my primary genre to read) are those where I can’t predict the outcome. I love the *gasp* moments that come with little surprises. The best ones, to me, are when you think you have everything figured out…but the author finds that one little back door that you never considered and WHAM, there it is. (This is one of the reasons that I’ve liked Kate Morton’s books so much, despite what Jane says. And Tana French – she can throw a good twist as well.) Anyway, I’m only 1/2 way through Shadow and I have not found it to be predictable….yet anyway. I think in part it is because I struggled to like the book for so long that I just didn’t really care. But now that I’m into it, things might change a little. I’m beginning to see some possibilities of where the story line is going, but it has taken me a while to get there.

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      I’ll have to check out a Kate Morton book to get that WHAM feeling! A rare thing, indeed – at least from someone like me who hasn’t had all that many opportunities since I read a safer genre. 🙂

      Don’t give up on Shadow – it meanders a bit with the many characters and their own offshoots, but it’s worth the time invested, I think. At least it has been for me. And the predictions I made that turned out to be right? Didn’t happen until the second half of the book!

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  2. Great question, Maureen. My wife and I are watching the show Friday Night Lights on DVD right now and quite frequently I predict what’s going to happen ahead of time. Normally it would bother me, but in this case–since I like the characters so much–it doesn’t bother me.

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      So characterization trumps plot structure! At least with readers like you and me. 🙂

      By the way, how does your wife react to your predictions, assuming you voice them aloud? Yikes! that could be contentious, based on what I once experienced in a movie theater sitting near someone who did that. (I won’t repeat the language exchanged.) :-0

      On a somewhat-related-prediction-topic, on the rare occasion that I watch a sporting event on t.v. with my husband, it’s like I have the announcer sitting right next to me and there’s an echo – only the echo comes from the television, repeating what my husband just said. Those kinds of predictions don’t bother me in the least!

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  3. I agree that character makes a big difference for me. If I care about the people in a book, I’m a little better with predictability. However, since I also write romantic suspense/mystery, I’m always concerned if I haven’t given the reader enough surprises. My editor doesn’t worry so much about it, since they’re more about the romance, but I do. I like surprises, love twists, and will give the writer extra kudos for surprising me with some good breath-taking incidents in a suspense novel.

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      Maybe your editor thinks that the reader who figures a twist out ahead of time does the pat-yourself-on-the-back thing that I do! That’s a good thing, right, to have your reader feel good while they’re reading your books?

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