Making the Predictable--Unpredictable: An Example with a Gilmore Girls Script

Saturday, August 26, 2017
If you read a lot, write a lot, watch a lot of movies, you know stories. And stories can often become predictable. In a romance, eventually the hero gets the girl. In a western, eventually the good guy gets the bad. In a mystery, eventually the detective solves the crime. So how do you make the predictable unpredictable and satisfy your readers?

I recently saw an example on the television show, Gilmore Girls. (Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't seen the series yet, but it is rather old and currently on Netflix in its entirety.) In the series, Luke and Lorelai are engaged, and Luke discovers he is the father of a 12-year-old girl. For whatever crazy reason, he doesn't tell Lorelai. Once he makes this decision, all viewers know the predictable thing is going to happen: Lorelai will find out, and she's going to be mad. Luke tells one person--his quirky sister, so viewers assume she will be the one to spill the beans. But the writers of the show, who are known for outlandish characters and witty dialogue, don't do the predictable. They have Lorelai come into Luke's diner, when Luke is not there, but his daughter is. His daughter accidentally tells Lorelai that Luke is her father. (Star Wars fans: this time, Luke is the father.)

So what did I learn about storytelling and fiction writing from this story line?

1. The predictable will happen, but change it up a bit.  Of course, Lorelai had to find out about Luke's daughter at some point, but the way she found out was written perfectly and not the "red herring" (Luke's sister) the writers set up.

2. Make life as awful as possible for your characters before you give them resolution. Lorelai finding out from the spunky and cute 12-year-old girl was the worst possible thing that could have happened for Luke, Lorelai, and their relationship. Think about your favorite stories--what are those moments when you are reading and thinking: That is the most awful thing that could happen and it just did? You want to find that moment for the characters you are writing about before they find happiness or resolution in the end of your story.

3. Brainstorm what the predictable outcomes are and figure out how to go one step further.  In this example, the predictable outcome is Lorelai finding out from someone--most likely Luke's sister or a beloved Stars Hollow townsperson who overheard a conversation Luke had. But at some point one of the writers said: How about April (the daughter) innocently tells Lorelai herself? Perfect!

If you read genre novels or are writing one, why do you love these stories if you know what will happen eventually? In your own writing, how will you surprise and satisfy your readers?

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. To take her novel writing course, which starts September 1, please see the details here. To find out more about her, please see her website:


Carol Coven Grannick said...

Oh, my gosh, Margo - you just gave me the opportunity for a lightbulb moment! Unexpected and fabulous! Thank you!

Margo Dill said...

Yay!! I'm so glad! Thank my current obsession with Gilmore Girls.

Angela Mackintosh said...

"Star Wars fans: this time, Luke is the father." <- Bwahahahaha!

These are GREAT suggestions, Margo. I like using red herrings, or in essays, foreshadowing connections or metaphors. Resolutions are so much more satisfying to the reader when your characters are going through hell.

I've never watched a Gilmore Girls episode, but they sound fantastic!

Sioux Roslawski said...

argo--In my memoir pieces, I occasionally like to lead the reader off in a wrong direction... leave them in the dark for a moment.

For example, this summer I wrote about my trip to Turkey to bring back four stray golden retrievers. I started the piece out like I was looking for a guy/date.

I loved Gilmore Girls. Do you watch "This is Us"? It's a wonderful series, and has bad-boy Jessie (Jesse?) as a main character...

Margo Dill said...

Sioux: This is US is on my list because everyone goes on and on about it. I don't watch that much TV so currently, Gilmore Girls is about all I can handle. :) Because I started at season 1 and there are like 22/23 episodes this season. I did see that Jess as his role in This is Us was nominated for some award. ALSO, he was such a punk in Gilmore Girls. I just wanted to slap him a couple times.

Ang: Thanks! I think Gilmore Girls is great writing--just clever, but I would say it's not overly edgy or anything. :) If you like Lauren Graham (i love her!), then you will like this show.

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