Letters on Literary Devices 13: The Predictability Spectrum

To haters of predictable endings:

As I’m sure you’ve already predicted, I’m writing this letter to expound on a new literary term I just invented. Here’s the name: THE PREDICTABILIY SPECTRUM.

Why did I invent this term, you ask? Well, these days, spectrums are all the rage. Think about it. You got the visible light spectrum – you know – like rainbows and shit. Autism has a spectrum. There’s the ol’ electromagnetic spectrum. There’s economic spectrums, political spectrums, broad spectrum antibiotics. Even poop has a spectrum. Haven’t seen it? Check it out:

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So I figured that if poop gets a spectrum, us literary folks should start thinking about getting some of our own spectrums too. Thus, I’ve created the very first literary spectrum (That I happen to know of).

On the far left side of the spectrum, we have foreshadowing. Everyone knows foreshadowing. That’s when an author builds suspense by hinting at future events. It can be done with a recurring motif, a snippet of dialogue, a direct address to the reader, dramatic irony – you get the idea, the list goes on.

On the far right side of the spectrum, we have Deus ex machina. That’s just an old Greek term for an unbelievable ending. In Greek drama, Deus ex machina was used when the plot was unsolvable. In those cases, the Gods would intervene, save the day, and everyone would go home happy. To be called Deus ex machina, the resolution of the conflict must seem random which means a total absence of foreshadowing.

To better the understand spectrum, take a moment to study this professionally drawn illustration:

Predictability Spectrum

Similar to good pooping, good writing relies on balance. While a good dump finishes somewhere between constipation and diarrhea, a good ending to a novel can be found somewhere between completely predictable and totally random.

It’s important to keep in mind that no two poops are alike and no two novels are alike either. For some genres and styles, a more predictable, softer ending is expected. Others require hard twists and turns in the plot before reaching an explosive conclusion. And that’s why I like the Predictability Spectrum. It allows for differences unique to the author and poop – I mean book.

 

Well, that’s all I have to say. I doubt that you predicted any of that. Deuces.

About Eric James-Olson

Eric James-Olson writes novels and short stories. Currently, he's working on a coming-of-age novel set in the Panhandle of West-Virginia. Check out the "Novels by Eric James-Olson" tab above for the titles of his other books. In addition to writing, James-Olson is a high school English teacher, an amateur woodworker, and an outdoor enthusiast. He lives with his wife and daughter in West Virginia. View all posts by Eric James-Olson

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