Friday, July 01, 2011

The Downside to Reading

The more I read, the more books become predictable. I recognize subtle foreshadowing easily because I know what to look for, because I've seen it so many times. To look for these clues has become embedded in my brain, a program that automatically kicks on at the sight of fiction.

I find I am best at predicting things about characters.

For example, in Across the Universe by Beth Revis [spoiler alert] I knew within the first few pages that the other Elder was going to be the one who was trying to kill the frozens. How? They said he was dead. Who better to commit the crime then a person they will most definitely not suspect. Shortly after, I figured out that Orion was the other Elder. Again, how? My first clue was the spider-web scar they kept mentioning on his neck (rule #1: good books don't draw attention to anything without a reason). The second was the scene with Elder and the doctor  at night. The doctor acted rather strange when he saw Orion on the Recorder Hall steps (rule #1).

I saw all that without even trying. Other people... didn't.

Perhaps their reading experience was better because of it. I spent most of my time reading the book wondering when the characters were going to figure it out already. During the climax (when I figured out the ending, surprise, surprise), my main thought was Finally! Other readers got to experience each plot twist with the characters and later got to go back, smiling, over all the things they missed.

Question: Do you prefer to see things in books ahead of time, or piece all the little tidbits of information together after the fact?


  1. I suppose I like a mix of both. For instance, in Prisoner of Azkaban, you can see a few things coming, but there's no actual way to predict what actually happens. Mystery books shouldn't work like "Clue." Because, as you've experienced, some people are really good at "who-dunnits." Unless that's the intention of a book, I say readers should be able to guess 1/3 of the mysteries to feel smart. But the rest should be unpredictable.

    And yes, Across the Universe was predictable. I read the summary to my husband and told him what was happening as I was reading about two chapters into the book and he guessed the end without even reading it.

    I think a lot of YA is like this. Matched was even more predictable than Across the Universe, and they hit the shelves right around the same time. You might have more luck reading Adult Fiction.

  2. I'm one of those who usually isn't good at who-dunnits. i.e. I will guess wrong. I know that if I've guessed right, the book wasn't very well written. :P

    I guess this isn't so much the downside of reading as it is of being a writer and reading?!?

  3. I am the same way with crime dramas, ha. I can usually guess who did it in the first few minutes (assuming they've been introduced, and they usually are). I've pretty much twisted the experience into my favor by just feeling relly, really gratified about it at the end XD;

  4. i am a big spoiler too. i love a book (or movie) that can make a good twist work. that means not giving too much away...tough to do!

  5. [I'm going to love it when I get home and don't have to manually type my name for every comment.]

    Christine: I don't remember what I thought of PoA the first time I read it because I was in the third grade (let me tell you, I fought to read that book, my teacher didn't really agree, said it was too advanced -rolls eyes-).

    I own Matched but I have yet to read it. I would have to say your theory may have more truth than fiction in it. I also guessed a key character's real identity in Divergent as soon as he was mentioned.

    Trisha: You'll get better at it. I usually read about three books a week (when I don't get distracted). It's a skill that comes with practice.

    Shh... I don't want there to be any downside to being a writer XD

    Hildred: I'm not as good with crime shows, but occasionally I'll get it right. I need to learn how to do that. XD

    Tara: I agree. With THINKING OF YOU I'm going to have to go back and insert a few spots of foreshadowing. It's going to be difficult, I can feel it.

  6. @Brooke

    It's pretty easy when you watch as many in my house as we do. XD; Basically, it follows a lot o fthe same ideas as novels - whoever is least likely to have done it, probably did it. Crime shows (and novels) love red herrings and the person who did it is usually the most involved with the case to avert suspicion. Although I'm also to the point where I can call "gay lover!" as well before it's even a plot point. There are a lot of camera cues that all the major crime shows love to use. SVU is the hardest though, because they're infamous for doing the whole "LOL MASSIVE TWIST!" at the 30min mark.

    I make it sound like I watch a lot more crime shows than I do...

  7. My household as a whole watches reality shows the most. However, we each have our own preferences, and one of mine is crime shows. SVU and NCIS are my favorites.

  8. I'm similar to you in that the foreshadowing in a book has to be pretty subtle for me to miss it, and that's the way I like. Heavyhanded foreshadowing I think is the writer's way of (whether they mean to or not) not trusting the reader to figure things out.

    I do think AtU isn't the best example though, because the foreshadowing in that book was redicilously heavy handed. More so than the average book. And I agree, almost the moment Orion was mentioned it was obvious who he was.

  9. That's why I'm having to cut one of my earlier scenes for THINKING OF YOU. It's very close to the climax of my book. That is some heavy foreshadowing.

    Across the Universe was the first book that came to mind for the post probably, as you stated, because the foreshadowing was so heavy.

  10. I'm with you. The more I read, the more predictable books become for me. My poor daughter. When we listen to audiobooks in the car, I'll actually heckle the narrator when the plot is too obvious. Or worse, when stupidity is used to create climaxes.

    *** Spoiler Alert ***

    I read Beth Revis's book. I suspected Elder was the killer (not dead) and that Orion was the old Elder. But I'm not sure she didn't want us to suspect it. Unlike you, I was surprised with a couple of things that happened at the end. I didn't think the new Elder was the one who opened her drawer. In fact, I went back to the scene to see how she pulled it off.