Let’s Discuss Predictability

When reading and writing, I really enjoy the twists and the turns. I love surprises, and I love the subtle clues that lead to those surprises. Because when I get down to it, its those twists and turns that keeps me turning the page.

As of late, I’ve been struggling to find a book that interests me. A true page turner. And as I’ve taken notes, I’ve noticed a trend: these books are exceedingly predictable.

There are really two books that inspired me to write this post: Legendary and Furyborn. Both are young adult, both are fantasy, both are hyped. But for me, both were disappointing.

Predictability arises from many things, but in these instances, I believe the predictability came from the poor use of foreshadowing. The key to “good” foreshadowing is subtlety. Of course you want little hints here and there because otherwise the twist wouldn’t feel realistic. But the problem arises when those little hints become overt.

There are a lot of areas and instances where this “overtness” can happen. Sometimes, it happens in the prologue, especially when the author decides to do a “flash-forward” of sorts. Yes, the flash-forward CAN work (The Name of the Wind does one successfully). But more often than not, it tends to fail.

For me, I HATE knowing where a character ends up. If I know how it’s going to end, I don’t usually give a shit about the journey getting there. This was one of the major issues I had with Furyborn. The prologue features Rielle (one of the main characters and a foretold queen) giving birth to her daughter. By the end of the prologue, we know Rielle’s fate, and we also are given not-so-discreet inklings about who her daughter is and where she ends up. By the end of this chapter, I predicted the major twists. It was horribly obvious, and this made the book quite painful to read because there was no mystery, no pull to keep reading.

But the prologue/flash-forward isn’t always what gives it away. Sometimes it has to do with lack of other realistic/probable options.

There’s a this “rule” in murder mysteries that the killer ought to be someone you met early on into the novel. It’s really the only way the twist can truly be satisfying and unexpected, because if it’s just some random dude, who cares?  The same goes for secret identities.

If you’ve read Caraval, you’ve probably either read or plan to read its sequel, Legendary. Part of the mystery behind these two books is the identity of Legend, the mastermind and master-magician behind these magical carnival-like games that the main characters participate in. Tella, one of the main characters, is determined to figure out his identity, so this is a pretty central plot in the second book. Because of this, you would think there would be a few realistic options as to who Legend really is. If we’re following the murder-mystery rule, then we can assume that it has to be someone we know. Preferably, someone we’ve already met.

But Legend’s identity was evident from early on. And the reason it was evident is because the author didn’t give us other characters who could be Legend. There were no real alternatives. And you should have multiple REALISTIC contenders for that person’s identity if you’re really going to have me believe that the main character can’t figure the twist out. Don’t half-ass it.

Ultimately, readers, especially young adults, are more perceptive than some authors give them credit for. Those little hints don’t have to be shoved down their throats. They can still be subtle. Besides, it’s more fun that way. And quite frankly, I’m always a little offended when the author spells it out for me. Silly, I know. But do they seriously think we aren’t capable of figuring it out?


3 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss Predictability

  1. readingrecluses says:

    Really interesting post! Something else that bothers me (more so in movies) is when you can guess what the character is going to say a few seconds before they say it.

    Liked by 1 person

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