Friday, July 10, 2009

So Predictable

predictable--a narrative condition in which the reader correctly guess the intent of a character and the outcome of that intent; dramatic circumstances in which there is little or no nuance, where the reader is neither surprised nor challenged.

If a reader is truly caught up in a story, he will have taken sides, begun to root for the success of some and the failure or worse (humiliation) for others, indulged in the trope of reader as matchmaker, seeing potential romantic entanglements. Additionally, the reader will be able to take cues from the text much as a dog about to be taken for a walk will take cues from the master putting on a jacket, clanking house keys, or reaching for a leash. Certain situations in story provoke the speculation that something--a disaster, a reversal, a surprise--is forthcoming. The shrewd writer, which is to say the writer who understands the dynamics of story, will be aware of these anticipations, then prepare for them in a way that will provoke surprise and keep the reader off guard and guessing to the point of not being able to take time away from the reading.

Never take the reader where the reader wants to go. Readers do not wish to be left standing still, which they may easily feel themselves to be if they are presented with laundry lists of details, forced to listen to long, philosophical discussions, subjected to weather reports or travel-writing descriptions of scenery. At the extreme least, readers want to feel as though they were eavesdropping on some form of intimacy; better still they wish to feel compellingly caught up with the execution of a particular character's agenda.

It is the task of the writer to make the reader feel the intensity of the characters and their involvements with the issues of the story. Anything else is predictable.

Even if you are not a fan or fancier of the suspense-based thriller, it is worth critically reading at least one novel by Harlan Coben, comparing it will one by Lee Child and Nelson Demille. Couldn't hurt to read Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, which presents yet other variations on the theme of surprise and unpredictability, then consider Louise Erdrich's A Plague of Doves.

Dealing with predictability in story provides another set of reasons to consider and absorb acting techniques from the likes of such actor coaches as Stella Adler, Sanford Meizner, and Uta Hagen, wherein actors learn where to find within themselves the emotions, gestures, and visions of surprise. In this sense, surprise is the discovery the character makes about himself/herself in times of weal and woe--discovery that before our eyes transforms the predictable into the truly remarkable.

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