Pride and Predictability

One of the reviews on my book was tilted “Predictable and gory.”

When I read that I was angry. I was upset. I didn’t want a 3-star review. I reminded myself for days that Stephen King had 1-star reviews. Not everyone has to like your work. You knew this writing the novel. You’re going to get bad reviews. You told yourself that.

But I still wanted to know: Why was my book being “predictable and gory” such a bad thing?

What makes a television show or novel or movie predictable? What is it that makes you say I saw that coming or I knew that was going to happen? Is it just practice? Repetition in watching horror movies or reading suspense? Or is it just that there are only so many story arcs that artists can’t come up with something truly, completely unique?

I recently watched the premiere episode of The Strain on FX (OnDemand). I haven’t read the book yet. I want to, even though I am not a huge fan of horror (though I do love Supernatural). As the episode unfolded, I found myself having feelings of knowing what was going to happen next. I always guessed correctly.

I knew that the airport tower control guy-in-charge wasn’t going to make it. I just knew after he had heard the whispers from the coffin that he was going to be next to die. “That’s it. You heard him. You’re dead,” I muttered. And I knew that after the CDC lead investigator make a call out that no trucks or vans or “anything that could hold the coffin” could leave the airport, someone in the CDC wasn’t good and let that coffin out. I knew it. And I was right on all the guesses I made.

The Strain’s first episode was overall predictable. The lead CDC investigator who has family issues (what investigator doesn’t?), doesn’t believe the old man who tells him how bad the situation is going to get (because that would help plot resolve much faster and everyone wants a monkey wrench in the plot). The coroner who didn’t make it (because the CDC lead asked him to work alone and keep it hush-hush until they knew was going on). The dead little girl at the end of the episode who returned to her father (Papa, I’m cold).

All predictable. I said they would happen before they happened.

But did it detract from the overall viewing of the episode? No. Did it make me feel like the writer did a shitty job on writing? No. Did it make me feel good about guessing what was going to happen? Yes. I felt smarter; I felt I was on level with the writer. Will I watch more episodes? Maybe.

Whether or not it’s predictable is irrelevant when it comes to writing, whether novels or screenplays. As long as you’re entertained and have a good time and great escape, guess away.

How about you? Do you like guessing right? Or do you like to be completely blown away?

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