Whenever I read something about the craft of writing, I always get the advice, “…and don’t make everything predictable or obvious, and don’t make your plot too simple.” I’ve run across that more times than I can imagine. So much so it’s beaten into my writer’s head as an axiom I cannot dislodge from my brain. So, I thought to myself, What’s so wrong with predicable or simple?
The conventional wisdom tells us predictability, especially within a novel, bores the reader. What’s the purpose of turning the page of the reader has already figured out what the ending is going to be, or what will happen to one of the characters. Another axiom: Kill your darlings comes to mind. Make sure the character the readers come to love…dies. Certainly George R.R. Martin took that one to heart in his Songs of Fire and Ice series.
They tell us writers, whoever the magical they are, one’s plot must have twists and turns, unexpected corners to peek around, or a darkened room with the lightbulb hanging in the middle, the character swimming through the blackness in order to turn on the light. Why? Tension…always tension. No tension, no story, they say.
These are just some of the things…rules…we writers are supposed to follow. But even now, as I’m tapping the keys on this computer I ask myself…why?
I’ve always operated under the assumption if something is good, made well, or of quality, people will buy it, be they products or ideas. In fact, I would go further and say people prefer the simple rather than the complex. It’s one of the reasons so many people don’t necessarily like to read historical fiction. So many authors are enamored by their historical prowess, researching and researching and researching again in order to ensure their novel is completely historically accurate.
Yes, there is merit there, I being a writer of two historical fiction novels, consulting three professors/experts in their respective fields of that vast plain, in order to “get things right.” However, so many authors pack so much into them it’s more a lesson/lecture in history rather than an entertaining story, something I’ve attempted to alleviate with the Flavius Fettotempi series. In the end, the history and the story must be accessible, readable, and entertaining…but above all, understandable.
People desire an enjoyable story with interesting characters, not a deluge of facts that obscure the story that lies beneath. Simple historical fiction that entertains.
I recently read a novel, quite a good one, where I figured out the road the author was traveling somewhere halfway through. I didn’t care. The prose was excellent, the characters and their engagement with the world around them was excellent, and the ending, while “predictable,” didn’t disappoint me at all as the story was well written. In fact, the last two novels I read were somewhat like that. Yes, maybe a twist here, an interesting development there, but in the end, simple, solid prose written by an excellent wordsmith. I was there, with them in a story that took me someplace else but immersed, and that’s all that mattered.
Just this morning I read where this significant mathematician, one who is currently indicted for fraud, criticized Shakespeare’s writing as dull, having illogical plots, and obvious endings. I thought on that for a moment after I read it, those words inspiring this article (a writer will look for anything to write about, anything that flips that switch). Then, I thought about the Shakespeare I’ve read, admittedly, not a lot but more than your average bear. Maybe. Maybe his plots are illogical, although for the most part, historically accurate. Maybe his endings are obvious…so? Who in the English language has such prose as Shakespeare? One reads him to submerge oneself in a different world, a world soaked in the morality and tragedy of a particular age. We walk with Lady MacBeth as she yells in her sleep, “out damned spot!” and we die with Romeo and Juliet. We are there with Henry V and his army on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt (1415) when he exhorts his men to fight “on St. Crispen’s Day.”
Isn’t that the point? Who cares if it’s predictable. Just because we know where we’re going doesn’t mean the ride can’t be beautiful. Just come to East Tennessee in the fall and make your way through Townsend in early November. You’ll understand.
The best food, as Gordon Ramsay says so often, is made well, with simple ingredients and simple preparation. In fact, anything more than that, anything too complex, loses its appeal for most people. Simple, fresh ingredients.
I’m not saying everything one reads should be easy or predicable. What I am saying is if the story is written well, told properly and set up as it should be…who cares if it’s predictable? Most people want a nice ride and are not concerned with what critics, those who assume to be the gatekeepers of what is proper and good, think. Most people wish to be entertained. Most people…
This mantra, simple, can be applied to so many areas of our modern life. How often are things “overthought” to almost be ridiculous? All one need do is look to the world of academia to see that on overdrive. Parsing the simplest ideas into notions so out-of-whack complex as to make the original notion moot, like slathering steak sauce all over a perfectly cooked ribeye. The same is true in the political realm. It’s gotten so pundits on either side, those who make a living carving off parts of entire phrases to create a narrative, do little else but search for the three or four words that they can use as a cudgel against their political enemies, the entire statement not in keeping with the narrative created.
Why anyone would get involved in the political arena these days with the jackals and hyenas ripping open every orifice of their existence to find something damning is beyond me, and a pathetic commentary on what is going on today and always.
But I digress….
Simple thoughts, plain ideas plainly spoken but expressed with elegance and grace will usually win the day for the average reader, the average person. Honestly, it’s as simple as that.