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

Be Careful What You Wish For

Just under a month ago, I wrote a post on the Write Romantics blog called ‘Chasing My Tail’ and I re-blogged it here. At the time, I found myself massively struggling to to everything I wanted to do. In fact, I was struggling to even do the things I needed to do; never mind the extras. Although I didn’t write it in my article, a little voice in my head kept telling me that it would be nice to catch one of those bugs that was going round to get me a little time off work so perhaps I could catch up a bit.

Be careful what you wish for.

On Wednesday 25th February, I came back from my morning bootcamp and couldn’t stop sneezing. My nose was like a tap that day and I had a constant headache. This continued the following day but, by the time I went to bed, I was aching. My head pounded all night, I went from pouring with sweat to shivering, and I barely slept a wink despite feeling exhausted. I phoned in sick and slept most of that Friday. Things went from bad to worse. I felt drained all weekend. I’m not often ill and, when I am, it’s likely to be two days at the most so I figured I’d be back by the start of the next week. Instead, I was at the doctor’s. I discovered I’d contracted two viral infections at the same time – the cold and flu one and the D&V one – and I could expect to be ill for quite some time as they were particularly nasty strains.

After a week of self-certifying, I had to get a sick note for another week off because I’d still got the infection, but had added conjunctivitis in both eyes to my list of problems. Saturday 7th March was a particularly low point for me. The cough – which kept me awake most nights and added to my exhaustion – was so bad that it made me sick, but the force of doing this burst blood vessels in my eyes. Bear in mind I already had conjunctivitis so was suffering already. My eyes were red and swollen and I could barely see. Early last week, I started to see a slow improvement. Very slow.

I returned to work on Friday. I’m still really tired, but I am well enough to be back at work and I’m definitely not contagious anymore. So was I well enough to catch up on anything or do any writing while I was off sick and therefore fulfil my little wish? Was I heck! I have a strong work ethic and have never/would never skive. If I’m off work, I’m off because I physically can’t work. Which meant I didn’t have the energy to write either. It turned out to have been a very stupid thought!

My first few days were all about bed. After that, I could make it downstairs to the sofa, but spend my days watching films or napping. On the plus side, I saw a lot of films I haven’t seen before. We have Netflix so I had a lot of choice. Particular favourites included a Sandra Bullock film called “28 days”, two based on Nicholas Sparks novels called “Safe Haven” and “The Last Song”, a Natalie Portman film called “Where the Heart is”, plus a Gwyneth Paltrow film called “Country Strong.” I’d never heard of any of them and would therefore never have sought them out if I hadn’t been ill.

Although I didn’t have the energy to write, I did have time to think about my writing. I’m nearly ready to send book 2 to my publishers. It’s being read by two beta readers, one of whom has read it before and the other who is reading it for the first time. I feel like I’ve made some great improvements to it recently, but something still wasn’t quite there. The storyline for one of the films bears no resemblance to the plot for book 2, but something that happened in the film triggered a thought process around book 2 and, along with some initial feedback from one of my beta readers, I think I might have found the missing piece. Yippee!

I’ve done very little writing since my return to work on Friday but it’s my flex day tomorrow (I work a full time week across four long days) so I’m hoping to crack on again then. One thing I’m a little scared of is whether I’m trying to do too much. I do cram a ridiculous amount in with work, writing, bootcamp, Brownies, and family, and I’m wondering if this little illness episode was my body’s way of telling me to slow down and relax a little. Perhaps I do need to have a night off a week where I just lie in front of the TV or watch another film I’ve never heard of on Netflix. I’m back at bootcamp in the morning and I’m back at Brownies that evening after a 2-week break. I just hope that I don’t set myself back again.

Moral of this story: if you are ever chasing your tail and need some time off, book some annual leave. Don’t hope for a minor bug; there’s no such thing!

Jessica xx