Monday, March 5, 2012

I can see the future

I have a brain that cannot help seeing the patterns in the stories I read and watch.

I know what the formula is for Scooby Doo and I know the formula for CSI and Criminal Intent and pretty much most TV shows out there. As soon I read the synopsis for The Prisoner of Azkaban, I knew that Sirius would be friendly and that he was a friend rather than the murderer of his parents and would more-than-likely become a foster parent for Harry. It was then just a matter of seeing it play out, rather than actually be surprised when this twist came to be.

A story that is reliant on a twist only works if you don't see it coming. If there aren't any other strings to its bow then it falls flat. A story like Fight Club still works because it is not reliant on twists as its sole hook - it has so many more layers that it can rely on.

Which brings me to romance novels: why are they so popular when the reader should know the basic plot by the end of the first paragraph? Why is it that romance novels religiously follow one (or more) of these plots?

  • Drama: Our protagonist pines for a stranger that he/she meets up with early on and then struggles for the rest of the story to resume their romance (Twilight, One Day, Meet Joe Black, Princess Bride ... and many, many more)
  • Tear Jerker: Our protagonist pines for someone that is away/attached/overseas and is doing everything in his/her power to meet up with them but then suddenly dies or the story ends (Romeo & Juliet, One Day (again), Sliding doors, The Lake House, Sleepless in Seattle, Princess Bride(again))
  • Comedy: Our protagonist dislikes, or deems unsuitable, an attractive love interest that continues to reaffirm the reason they shouldn't like each other for most of the story until finally the protagonist realises it is the complete opposite (The Ugly Truth, When Harry met Sally, French Kiss, Along Came Polly, Princess Bride(again) etc).

And that's it. You can work out whether he/she is going to die simply by how unavailable they are. You know that she will fall in love with him if she hates him and you can work out whether it's going to be a drawn out pining process by how many mental diatribes are expressed about the love interest. It's not that a romance novel can't be well-written. If the characters are well-realised and the scenarios are well conceived, it can surpass its basic formula. But I just wonder why there couldn't be a more original plot line rather than simply a retread.