Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Predictability in Stories

One thing in the life of a writer is predictable - rejection.

And one type of rejection is predictable - the "predictable story" rejection.

But I sometimes wonder what is a predictable story. Some stories are perfectly predictable. The Notebook is predictable. You know, as soon as he walks into the room with his demented wife, not only is she going to become lucent and remember their love, she is also going to very quickly forget and become a hostile stranger. That is the inevitable nature of the tragedy, but the fact that anyone with half a brain could predict what would happen did not in any way diminish its enormous popularity or the dramatic impact of the story.

Too often editors reject stories for being predictable, when that story could not be told without somebody guessing what would happen. It's just not possible to write a truly, universally surprising story. Did you guess that Odysseus would make it home and kill the suitors? So did I. My brother guessed, within ten minutes of the start of the movie, what would happen at the end of The Sixth Sense. Did you?

You also have to wonder when that predictability check box gets checked. Does it get checked on page one, or does it get checked on page thirteen of a sixteen page story? When is something predictable and when is it inevitable? It's a fine distinction.

My suspicion is that editors, especially editors of Big Important Magazines, use  predictable , along with  seeing a lot of (fill in the blank) type of stories recently and  just bought a story like this to give themselves an excuse not to publish a story. Because if they published every publishable story that came across their desk, there wouldn't be room in the magazine for the big names who bring in the subscriptions and retail sales.

Nobody predicted this would be easy.

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