Is being predictable a bad thing?

My debut novel, Searching for Steven, was released three weeks ago today and my novella, Raving About Rhys, was released a few weeks before that. It’s been exciting watching the reviews come in. Some have been from friends and family, but many have been from strangers which is extra exciting. Having someone I don’t know read my work and say lovely things about it is quite an incredible feeling and I’m ever so grateful to those readers and bloggers who’ve taken the time to post a review. So far, nearly all of my Amazon reviews have been five star, with a few at four star. Eek!

_MG_0221The purpose of this blog post isn’t to witter on about my reviews, though. It’s to pick up on something I’ve read in a couple of them that I’ve also noticed in reviews of novels by other authors: a suggestion that the story is predictable. It’s something I find a little odd when relating to a romance story because surely all romances are predictable. By this I mean they follow a standard formula: girl meets boy, falls in love, and they live happily ever after. Okay, so that wouldn’t make a gripping page-turner so there needs to be an additional element. Sometimes girl loves boy, but he doesn’t know she exists … at first. Sometimes girl loves boy but he’s with someone else. Perhaps they get together, but something separates them: illness, distance, pride, a misunderstanding … the possibilities are endless. But the basic premise is that we know our hero and heroine are going to get together because that’s what a romance novel is all about.

There are several notable exceptions to the happy ever after: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and a heck of a lot of Nicholas Sparks novels where the hero doesn’t manage to make it out of the book alive and the reader needs shares in Kleenex and Galaxy to get through to the end. For the vast majority of romance novels, though, we meet the heroine, we meet the hero, and we know they’re going to get their HEA. What makes the story interesting is the HOW. How will they get together? What conflicts will they face? What obstacles will they overcome? Every author and every story has a slightly different take on this which is why avid readers of romance novels, like myself, read book after book and don’t get bored by the genre.

I suppose you could argue that crime novels are predictable too: crimes are committed and ultimately the criminal is caught and (hopefully) brought to justice. There will be challenges along the way e.g. the police get the wrong person, they’re in the wrong place and another crime/murder is committed, and so on but, ultimately, the crime is solved. Again, there are notable exceptions but, as I haven’t read quite as many crime novels, I can’t name them as easily as the romance ones! Do readers think crime novels are predictable because they also follow a formula?

_MG_0218Or am I missing the point? Are the comments about predictability not about the overall plot, but more about a specific aspect of one of the sub-plots? I’d love to know. But therein lies the cardinal rule of reviews: you can’t comment on them. On the one or two reviews of mine where the word ‘predictable’ was mentioned, I was dying to comment and ask the reviewer what aspect they felt was predictable as all feedback is good feedback and I want to learn from it, but I knew I’d unintentionally sound defensive if I asked. And it’s not the done thing to ask. Believe me, I’ve seen case studies online where people have challenged reviews and it’s not pretty. I know there are some great twists and turns in both the novel and the novella, but maybe there’s something that is a little obvious and that’s what they mean. I’m not offended in any way; just curious. What’s really lovely is that it was made very clear that the readers still loved the book and that the predictable element, whatever it was, certainly didn’t detract from their enjoyment. Phew! So perhaps I should just accept the positive comments, the great ratings, and not worry about that one little word.

What do you think? Are romance novels predictable? Does it matter? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Jessica xx

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