IWSG 33 – Why Avoid Writing Devices + Recipes

New IWSG BadgeThis post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month, to join the group or find out more click here.


C0-Hosts: Misha Gericke, LK Hill, Juneta Key, Joylene Buter


Not only has being a writer changed how I read, it has changed how I judge all stories. Let’s take television.

The Good:

Story structure and its plot points stand out during television shows. The commercial breaks appear immediately after the hook and the mid-twist are set, and the final conflict begins.

The Not So Good:

Long ago a friend, rather bored, commented, “Here’s the part when the star gets a knock on the head.” Apparently she noticed it happened every week. After I paid closer attention, I had to agree. It DID happen every week.

She also told me that nothing more than a knock on the head would ever happen to the star. Why? Because there would be no show.

She opened my eyes.


I discovered the racing to save someone device on my own and laugh aloud when the stars jump in a car to race across town. We all know this can be done in five-to-ten minutes. (Nope, don’t think so.)

So as the bomb ticks down or a person is being murdered the hero races across town. Although the actor is very good at hurrying. They make all the appropriate faces and skid around corners.

One question always pops into my head: Why don’t they call for the closest police car to save them instead?

Not All is Lost as Long as We Are Awarecolorful-1300128_1280

What I’m getting at is, storytellers need to realize readers/viewers need more than recipes and devices. Eventually, the fans see through them.

Some writers get it. As Bossman, my son, said, “That’s why I love Game of Thrones. It’s unpredictable.”

What other stories or storytellers are unpredictable? I’d love to check them out.

43 responses to “IWSG 33 – Why Avoid Writing Devices + Recipes

  1. I know what you mean. My boyfriend is consistently surprised when I call what’s going to happen in shows and movies. I thought Stranger Things on Netflix was pretty awesome and unpredictable.

  2. This must be why I struggle to find TV shows I want to watch. Even my old favorites are failing me lately.

  3. I do enjoy some unpredictability in what I watch on TV and read in books, but at the same time, I also enjoy the predictability of it all too–like figuring things out faster than the characters. I’m sure there is a balance to it all. 🙂

  4. Yeah, the same devices in each installment can get stale after a while. On the other hand, if used right, they might be comforting, e.g. I know the hero won’t get seriously hurt, just a little knock on the head to spice things up.

  5. We have to rise above formula.

  6. Yeah its hard to surprise me too. I do love it though on the rare occasion it happens. Of course romance is read for the guaranteed happy ending, but it is the stuff in between where we need to be surprised. Sometimes that happens too. Its been long enough since I read one thought I can’t name it. Good post.

    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  7. “Arrow” is unpredictable story-wise, the main character even dies in one season (okay, not really, but for a few episodes we all believe it). Which leads me to believe that we should keep all our characters off-balance and our readers invested in the outcome even if we stick to a winning formula 😉

  8. Angela Wooldridge

    oh yes, so fed up with movies where the action sequence goes on for so long that you can go make a cup of tea and things still haven’t moved forward by the time you come back. Yawn.

  9. Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

    I’m so used to seeing a couple pair off at the end of the story that it’s surprising when it doesn’t happen. That happened in one of the books I read last month (I don’t want to say which one for fear of spoilers).

  10. I always notice people walking…and they’re walking…doesn’t matter if they get anywhere. LOL
    sherry @ fundinmental

  11. That first season of Game of Thrones threw me for a loop, it was so unpredictable, which also made it exciting and suspenseful.

    I remember many, many years ago, reading King’s THE STAND for the first time and being utterly shocked when one of the main characters – and one of my favorites – died. I went back to look at the pages again to make sure I read the scene correctly. Blew my mind. And I loved it. 🙂

  12. It’s almost impossible for me not to notice the all is lost moment in movies. Now I always check my watch when it happens so I can check that the director stuck it in at the right time or not.

  13. Hi,
    One of the main reasons I don’t look at television is that a book is more exciting. That is then hard for me when I go see a movie because I am constantly putting down the film. I come out feeling frustrated. So, I’ve decided to not go to the theatre to see a film when I’ve already enjoyed the book.
    Shalom aleichem,

    • I look at them as two ways to tell the same story. Some movies are too ambitious like Dune for example. I did like the one with Sting in it. Mostly because Sting was in it otherwise the movie sucked. hehehe

  14. That’s why I love Vikings. The writers always surprise me. Another thing I notice is the writer burnout. How many first and second seasons become woody and predictable in the 3rd season. The characters switch, but the plot’s the same.

    • Roseanne said after a couple of seasons she hired new writers to keep things fresh. I noticed every few years the supporting cast changed.

      I’ll check out the Vikings. Thanks for the tip. 🙂

  15. Vampire Diaries. It’s a bit brutal, but wow. They don’t hold their punches. Ever. Yes, there’s a formula, but the end… Yikes. Every. Stinkin’. Time.

  16. I don’t watch so-called reality TV, but I think unpredictability is one of the primary reasons those shows became so popular. As far as scripted TV, The Americans is the only unpredictable show that comes to mind. Books are another matter entirely, especially those who write genre. Genre publishers are cowards and regardless of what they say, they want formula.

    VR Barkowski

  17. I drive Hubs nuts when I see foreshadowing, I say something like “that’s going t show up later” when I see something odd at the beginning of a movie. Or see that. I’ll bet such & such will happen. I have to force myself not to do that too often. Nothing like someone spoiling a movie or TV show for you. LOL

  18. Trying to find a TV show with unpredictable episodes is a challenge. Even more so if that show gets dropped because of scheduling/ratings shenanigans.

  19. It’s really interesting to read the other comments and see what shows people recommend. Some I’ve heard of and some I haven’t. Will have to check them out.

  20. I don’t watch much TV at all. Books are way better 🙂

  21. On issue I have with “unpredictable” is when the writer put so much effort into being unpredictable, that the “unpredictable” thing also becomes a device which is predictable. (Such as the movie Now You See Me.)

  22. I love not being able to figure out how the story will end or not to know “who-dun-it” until the last page. How to Get Away with Murder is very unpredictable!!
    JQ Rose

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