Balancing Predictability

One of the hardest parts of writing is balancing predictability in a story line. When the reader can pretty much tell how your story will end, or even where it’s leading to at any point along the way, you have the makings of one boring book regardless of how dramatic it is.
Balancing Predictability
There are only so many ways a story can go though, right?

It’s either going to be a happy ending or a sad one. Either the good guys or the bad guys will win the day.

Balancing predictability when there are only so many directions to take a story line can be a writer’s nightmare, no doubt about it.

So how do you keep people captivated and reading to the end when they’re already predicting in their heads, based on all the stories they’ve read before, where you’re leading them?

After all, you have to make the story somewhat familiar if you expect your readers to get the drift of the message you’re putting forward. And in order to do so, you automatically have to inject some predictability into where you’re taking them. Otherwise they’ll not make the connection, nor see the lesson to the moral.

Plus the most rewarding thing about writing fiction is when you can take an extremely far fetched scenario, and make it seem real. On the same token though, reality is very predictable.

So it seems we writers are strapped to formatting. If we wander too far off the beaten path of the classics, or we stray too far away from the archetypal standards, we risk losing the reader’s comprehension or we toss them into the void of predictable boredom.

What to do, what to do?

Well here’s a couple ideas . . .

One way of balancing predictability is to mask it in complexity.

One of my favorite writers is the late Robert Jordan, who took his very predictable “Wheel of Time” story, (in fact he tells you how it’ll end from the start), and made it so complex in scope, it was hard to tell where each scene left you in the course of the journey.

Sometime you’d think he was leading you to one outcome, and then he’d take you two steps back by turning an apparent solution into a new problem. Couple that with the sheer number of characters, factions, and the roles each played in the vast world he created, it was hard to see how everything fit together, let alone predict where it was going.

Similar to complexity, another way of balancing predictability is by adding more options than seems necessary.

Obviously, the more dimensions you inject, the less likely your reader will be able to pick the right one, which in turn forces them to wait to see how it all unfolds.

If your character can only go toward or away from an enemy for example, your reader will be able to pretty much predict how the decision will effect the outcome. But giving the character other options, especially if they’re riskier or more uncertain of success, will keep the reader guessing, if for anything, just because they’re there.

Anyway, how do you go about balancing predictability in your stories?

Naturally, there are many other ways than listed here. And we know this, because in spite of the thousands of years of human writing, there are still some highly intriguing, nail biting stories and novels being written today.

So we know you must have some of your own ;)


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