Predictability in fiction

A lot of times, after I read a few chapters of a novel, I’ll be able to kind of recognize the whole plot formula and be able to predict everything that’s going to happen for the rest of the story. This happens a lot with movies too. After you see all the expository scenes, you basically know where eveything is going to go.

So my question is, what are the the things you see in the set up for a story in movies or books that make you think, "ok, I see where that’s going to go?

My example:

In any novel or movie about a detective hunting a serial killer, if the detective has either a child or a love interest (pregnant wives work really well), you can rest assured that in the 3rd act, that child and/or love interest will be kidnapped by the serial killer and the hero will have to jump through hoops to rescue them.

What else do you see as big, blinking neon signs about what’s going to happen later?

If a character coughs in a movie there’s a 50% chance he or she is suffering from a not quite yet diagnosed terminal illness (one whose first symptom is coughing, even if it’s late stage prostate cancer or AIDS).

In war movies supporting characters are usually safe until they tell a story about back home. They paint a bullseye on their head with backstory.

In almost any movie any scene or back-story information about a character that seems unnecessary will usually come back in the final reel. (Mike Myers pokes fun at this in Wayne’s World and Austin Powers with “Gee… he really seemed to give me a lot of superfluous information considering what I asked him” type lines.) One of the greatest advantages of novels over films is that often the back-story and asides really are just there for interest or to add dimension.

If a woman manages to knock to the ground or seemingly kill an evil male character, he will not actually be dead. He will be lying there, but rest assured he will rise up again, when the woman is least expecting it.

In any teen comedy there is a 70 percent chance of one of the characters unwittingly ingesting some kind of bodily fluid.

Also, in any given movie about military training, if the young recruits go on leave to a bar in town, wearing their dress uniforms, there is an 80% chance that one of the guys will be pressured to go hit on a woman by all the other guys, and he will go up and talks to her and make a complete idiot of himself and all his friends will laugh at him but he winds up taking her home anyway.

A handsome male character with blond hair, who is not the lead, will usually turn out to be evil.

If a movie is a romantic comedy, this will always happen:

  1. Two people fall in love.
  2. One person screws it up.
  3. The person who screws it up makes up for it and the two are back in love.

Superhero movies where the superhero already knows about his powers when the movie starts:

  1. Evil villain shows up that kicks the superhero’s ass.
  2. Superhero has a moment where “he knows what he must do”.
  3. There is a final battle.

If something has pointy ears, it’s very old, very powerful, and always one of the good guys.

If something is wearing a helmet that covers its face and rarely (or never) takes the helmet off, it’s almost always very old, powerful, and one of the bad guys. In addition, there is a 99% chance that if you’re watching a fantasy movie, the main bad guy wears a full suit of sweet looking plate armor most or all of the time.

People who go from good to bad will always die as a result of their own greed/ambition/betrayal/etc.

The killer always deliberately leaves clues for the detectives, explaining his motives and how brilliant his scheme is. The killer is almost always extremely intelligent and almost completely reclusive. The killer has some sort of intimate connection with the detective/hero, and will at some point try to explain how they’re really “not all that different” from each other.

edit: if a person of one race kills a person of another race, it is almost certain to be either an accident, or a misunderstanding. It is always a poignant description of real life society, and an appeal to make a change and help improve the world.

Some things in crime fiction that surprise me if the result is not what the convention leads me to expect:

[li]References to peripheral things that are not followed up turn out to be significant: if someone answers “that was in 2002, right after we came back from our Australian vacations” it will turn out later that something significant happened in Australia.[/li][li]If someone puts off reading some note or report/returning some call, because it does not sound important, it turns out to be important.[/li][li]If someone usually is armed, and goes somewhere leaving the weapon behind, he/she will have cause to regret it. (Particularly within the last third)[/li][li]If someone goes off somewhere without telling anyone he/she will have cause to regret it. (Also, particularly within the last third)[/li][/ul]

I got distracted while watching the 2005 film of War of the Worlds- I was waiting for Tom Cruise to be a hero with his crane-operating skills. The first 5 minutes are all about how he is the best crane operator ever. Then this is not mentioned in the whole rest of the movie.

Maybe they should’ve added a scene where he had to rescue the car keys from the “Grab with a Claw” arcade game they’d fallen into. And he was down to his last quarter.

Other way-too-frequent things I’m annoyed with:
“The monster/killer’s loose in this big complicated maze. Let’s split up to find him. We’re going over here. You go over there, where it’s dark.”
“I know the killer has sword to get you, but you’re perfectly safe here. The place is well guarded. You just wait here while we go out to where we’re absolutely certain he is. I’ve even given you a sedative to help you rest.”
“THAT’S what their weakness is! Spray them with Salt Water!”
“Of course we’re sure he’s dead. We found his body, but it was burned beyond recognition. But we’re sure it’s him because we found his ring/one unburned finger with his fingerprint/his distinctive tattoo.”

Hero is equipped with a weapon/skill with a “regular mode” and a “SUPERAWESOME mode.” The SUPERAWESOME mode is a one-shot deal.

In the end, the hero will use the special aspect of his weapon to overcome his arch-nemesis.

For example, in Cold Mountain, I knew at about page 25 that Inman (protagonist) would kill Teague (main antagonist) in the end because the author gives Inman a gun with a special second chamber that would shoot one especially large round.Or in Kill Bill, vol II, we know exactly who is going to kill whom, and how he is going to die. Respectively: the bride, Bill, the five-point-palm-exploding-heart technique, and the Conservatory.Happily, in both of these there is an additional twist so that the whole thing isn’t a complete wash.

For what it’s worth, I spend a few paragraphs musing about the general phenomenon of the totally predictable movie in this post about A Good Year (the Russell Crowe movie from a couple of years ago). Nothing since then has changed my mind, either about the particular movie or about the audience’s reason for enjoying stories like this.

I can’t say I’ve ever seen this one. (Maybe…it sounds like something that’d be in Top Gun, which I hardly payed attention to.)

But it reminds me of one…

If a group of military men go to a bar in uniform, and encounter uniformed members of another service, a fight WILL break out.

If the attractive male and female lead are thrust together by circumstances or a joint task at hand, and if they appear to dislike or mistrust each other and they’re always arguing, it’s not certain the obvious sexual tension ultimately will be consummated (it never was in A Few Good Men), but it’s better than even money.

The Martian tripods are simply superadvanced versions of Tom Cruise and his crane.

Say you’ve got a book that deals with the possibility that Jesus had offspring and that there might possibly even be people alive today who are the descendants of Jesus. And for whatever reason, the author chooses to describe in some detail the color of Jesus’ hair in a famous painting.

Then imagine this author mentions the hair color of one of his main characters roughly every eight pages, and it just happens to be the same hair color as Jesus’ in that famous painting.

And still people seemed to be surprised by the way that book ended.

(And this was, for the record, nowhere near my biggest complaint about The DaVinci Code. It’s just the one that fit the OP best.)

I don’t like it when bad guys act in ways that are less intelligent than the heroes, setting up scenarios that only seem designed to allow the hero time to succeed. Damn it, if you have every intention of killing someone, and you have no problem doing it, then don’t wait until the hero can get there to effect a last-minute rescue. (I read the Evil Overlord list frequently to make sure I don’t fall prey to the same thing.)

No one has EVER died from falling off some thing. Ever.

(ps, plugging cuz well, it’s the best answer to this)

And I’ve mentioned the “Hyper Fertile Doomed Hero Cliche” before: if the hero has sex only once with the heroine, then dies valiantly, the last scene will feature her a few years later walking with a child who’s a (few years - 9 months) old.

Examples: Pearl Harbor, Cold Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean [I know Will doesn’t die, but he’s damned nonetheless], others

I was both surprised and glad that Titanic didn’t do this.

If there are two men available to the heroine as a love interest, one of them a jerk and the other a nice guy, she will always start out with the jerk and end up with the nice guy.

Usually, not always.