1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    How to keep your story from being predictable?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Link the Writer, Mar 11, 2011.

    Okay, suppose I write a sci-fi series about a Devonian boy named Kenthew Rennald and his human companions (Captn. Helen Chert of the USS Santarnica and Captn. Gordon Randolf of the HMS Forfus). During the series, they discover that Kenthew's homeplanet has been invaded by the Altrans and the people have been slaves for the next fifteen years.

    Kenthew, being rescued months before the initial invasion when he was a baby (He's now 15), decides to liberate his people. After huge battles, he, Helen, and Gordon are standing in the throne room with the former slaves kneeling down. They want a new ruler to help usher then into an age of healing and peace.

    I pause. If I were a reader, I'd be throwing the book away because I'd already know how it'd end...predictabley. Kenthew would most likely become the new ruler because Helen and Gordon would have to return to the Earth.

    I just feel like this plot is a wee bit predictable. Even if Kenthew didn't become the ruler, someone we know will.

    So, what do you do when you start suspecting that your story is becoming predictable? How do you know if your story is becoming predictable? What's the difference since you already know how it's going to end?
     
  2. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    All stories reach a point where you can see where it's going. Often this happens at the entry into 3rd act, or the last few chapters leading to the climax. I think it's a sign of insecurity to bombard the reader with last minute plot-twists and it can all too easily get a farcical feel.

    Think about some great books you've read. How soon did you guess the ending? Did the guessing make you stop reading? If the characters and the setting are awesome and vibrant, then I don't even want to stop reading once the entire plot is resolved. It's like not wanting to leave a party you know is over, since the DJ went home 2 hours ago.

    So, either that, work more with your characters and setting and let those be the magnets that keeps the reader attached -- the reader may be curious to see how Kenthew handles being offered the throne, if the reader knows him well enough. Perhaps he doesn't want it, doesn't feel capable, etc.

    Or, as an alternative, work some parallel conflicts into the story. Add another character who could be candidate, or another group / power that wants Kenthew with them, a romance with the girl who will be forced to return to Earth, or whatever else that could complicate his move to become ruler.
     
  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    That's cool. I was just nervous because when you think about it:

    - Baby Kenthew is rescued by Helen just before his planet was invaded by the Altrans.
    - Fifteen years later, Kenthew wants to free his people. (How the humans managed to miss this for fifteen years, I don't know. Advice?)
    - He somehow encourages the human race to stand up and help him.

    All this just screams "kingly" material. Hell, you could almost surmise that this is pratically the story of Moses, with Kenthew as the one to free his people from slavery, after being rescued by a person not of his kin.

    Wouldn't readers know almost the minute they see Helen pick up Baby Kenthew that this little guy's gonna liberate his people and become the king or somsuch?
     
  4. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that greatly depends on how you write it. If she finds him in a basket in the river, then probably. Weave the story in directions that don't resemble other stories of its kind and use everything that goes on on the side to lead thoughts away from what it eventually leads to...?

    An integrated sub-plot about the relations between humans and the new rulers of his homeplanet could give the story a big piece of meat and perhaps give a good reason why the humans haven't liberated the planet for 15 years. They might be well aware of it, but galactic politics be in the way.
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    In the scene where Helen finds him, don't get purple-prosey about her wondering what he will grow up to become. In fact, when he's a baby, make him a nuisance unplanned kid and focus on other characters. When he grows up to be a hero, it'll be more surprising.
     
  6. katica
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    katica Senior Member

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    I agree with HorusEye. People like to call stories "predictable" just because they were able to predict what was going to happen a couple of pages before it does. That isn't being predictable. Plots should LEAD the readers in certain directions as the story progresses. If they are constantly shocking the readers, then they aren't explaining or foreshadowing things enough to make it a good story. There are no goals in that case, which will make the whole thing seem random, You should know that certain fights and problems are going to be dealt with in the future and that the outcome will probably be a good one (sad stories don't sell as well). The unpredictable part of the plot usually comes as you wonder HOW they are going to get through those trials or accomplish those things. The shock shouldn't be that that one character will eventually become king, the shocking part should be HOW he becomes king.

    A novel I'd genuinely say was predictable was Twilight. (I love Twilight by the way, so this isn't a hate rant.) You know why? Because BEFORE I even picked up the novel, just from reading the back cover, I knew it would be about a high school girl who went to school with a vampire and slowly over time discovered he was a vampire as he left hints on accident over time while everyone else was oblivious. They'd have a conflict about it and her life would be in danger, but in the end they'd be happy and together. Because I read other vampire romance novels and that's how they went and guess what? So did Twilight. That's what makes a novel predictable. I knew where it was going and how it would get there before I read anything.

    Being able to guess that a story is eventually going to lead in a certain direction (but not knowing how it will get there) is not a sign that a novel is predictable.

    And remember something . . . . there is no such thing as a novel that's totally original and unpredictable, unless the person who is writing it is insane.
     
  7. Georgew
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    Georgew Member

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    I don't think it matters.

    Sometimes it's not about the ending it's about the journey.

    If you've taken the reader through multiple events and long durations of time. Denying them what they desire for the character can often be counter productive.

    I've watched many films where the ending has been given some elaborate twist and it annoys the hell out of me.

    I'm not saying be predictable, I'm just saying when considering these things especially in the closing of a story consider the desires of the reader. Likelihood is if the reader has come this far they WANT that obvious happy ending.

    Just something to consider.
     
  8. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that all stories reach a point where they become predictable, or at the very least you know they'll go into one of two directions. I think telling the story honestly is the best way to go.

    Afterall, we rewatch or reread favorite stories despite knowing where it is going. WHY? Because it is good! Therefore, I don't feel predictability should be top priority. At least not right now; just write. :D
     
  9. Georgew
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    Georgew Member

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    Good point, in fact I rewatch and reread most favorites, sometimes enjoying it more the second time.
     
  10. Tesgah
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    Tesgah Member

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    One thing I do with my book to make the plot more unpredictable, is to have unpredictable thing happen throughout the entire story. Among other things I intend to kill of a highly sympathetic character (one of the protagonists), which I think will be difficult to see coming (the death is, of course, a necessary one as it pushes the plot into the next act). Most people will see how the book is going to end, it's how they get there that is important. Just look at all the Hollywood romantic comedies. We all know that they end up together, but how?
     
  11. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Interesting.

    So I can find ways to startle the readers? Like maybe have Kenthew do something they weren't expecting, or Helen? Maybe Helen?

    Also, what would Helen be doing on the Devonian homeworld that makes her come across Baby Kenthew and want to adopt him?
     
  12. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    I like to be "realistically unpredictable." I'll take the road less travelled, if it seems like it is feasible. I don't like to overplan my stories either. Don't be afraid to deviate from the plan; often times that works out for the best.
     
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  13. Tessie
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    Tessie Contributing Member Contributor

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    Realistically unpredictable. Yes! Exactly, take his advice Link.

    For me, I begin with stereotypical subplots, reserving my big crises for the main plot. And I think having sub plots that spill over and effect the main plot is another way to keep your characters and overall story unpredictable.
     
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  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't plan my stories so they are unpredictable even to me lol I had one day when I flew into a panic thought I had killed my favourite character - I had someone poised taking his pulse. It took me an hour to write the next sentence. Blasted story kept me hanging on for a further three thousand words waiting to find out if he survived a procedure to remove something from his brain.
     
  15. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just decide on a different ending and figure out how to get there.

    Maybe Kenthew becomes an incompetent or oppressive ruler, and the book doesn't end there; it's only half-way through the story. The other half of the story, the Earth heroes need to figure out a way to depose Kenthew.

    Maybe the people don't want any of them as a ruler. That they're heroes doesn't automatically make them competent at politics. The British government led by Winston Churchill during WWII was highly regarded, and it was believed they would win a landslide victory in the first election after the war, but they lost, because people figured a great war-time leader wasn't the same as a great peace-time leader.
     
  16. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Hmmm...Realistically unpredictable...

    So basically I just let my characters tell the story regardless as long as it fits in with their setting?
     
  17. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The thing about being unpredictable in a meaningful way is that you can't be random. Just doing something random is meaningless.

    The thing you need to do is to define what premises the readers expect an answer to and how these answers can be combined and constructed.

    In you example the first premises people expect will be addressed is "Who will rule the kingdom?" and the second expectation is "What will the MC future be?"
    The predictable path is combine them straight away with another common expectation "Things ends happily"

    The resulting answer is the ending: "Kenthew rules and turns out being really good at ruling and the kingdom and Kenthew prospers."

    But there is a lot of other way to combine these expectation. Kenthew might rule but make it a tragedy, he sucks at ruling and hates doing it and his people grow to hate him and another rebellion might arise.

    Or the premises might be answered by "The kingdom is split into small city states and Kenthew spends the rest of his life as a travelling musician" or something else.

    Identify the premises who the readers answers to, come up with some different answers and ways that combines them.
     
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  18. Smoke
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    Smoke Contributing Member

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    It sounds like he can use his rule to slowly turn the ruled slave-race into a self-governing one.

    But there is a saying "tropes are not bad." Which means that a narrative device keeps being used because it tends to work. Of course, there is a whole language around having an identifiable device and how it is used.
     
  19. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Could try it - certainly works for me. Most people have an ending in mind - I have yet to make it to the one I planned lol

    I find foreshadowing happens naturally because that is what I am using to create the next part of the story. Symbolism etc creeps in naturally as characters perform certain actions etc.

    I could be wrong but don't think my plots are too predictable - the characters work well in their setting. Part of it for me is just making sure everything has a context so such and such happened so why did it happen etc
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Of course, you realise that the girl Kenthew is desperately in love with is not present because she has an incurable medical condition and couldn't survive in Earth's gravity. So Kenthew is going to have to choose, and whatever he chooses involves loss.
     

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