Referring to the predictability of the television sensation Lost (a series that, despite repeated urgings from friends, I have not yet seen), Steve of This Space has this to say about current narrative:
We are meant to be moved. We react by understanding that we are to feel moved. But we feel nothing. Sometimes it’s good to feel nothing. We know where to go when we need to feel nothing. It’s called Popular Culture.
While tropes are an inevitable element of narrative (particularly in film and television), I wonder how much these sentiments apply to literature. How much of contemporary literature is dictated by predictable behavior? Further, when a novelist pulls off a series of successful plot twists (Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith comes to mind), is that novelist, however successful her work, guilty of playing directly to the audience? Is there something innately within the novel form that prevents it from succombing to artifice or is the medium abstract enough to produce more emotional reactions from readers and academics alike?
It seems to me that there’s an false distinction here. A trope is merely a plot device that failed to engage or surprise the audience. If Lost were a better show (read: if the writers cared about telling a coherent story or making their characters believable) then the plot twists would move the audience no matter how predictable they were.
For the record, I’ve read plenty of books in which the plot twists were predictable and failed to move me. I’ve also read predictable books that managed to move me because they had something else – good characterization, beautiful writing – going for them.
I’m reading Fingersmith right now. I’m just past the first major twist and kicking myself for not guessing it sooner than I did.