New, different, unexpected – these are the things we all want in a story, right? After all, if the story is too predictable, too much like all the others we’ve read, then why bother with it? While this is very true – both readers and writers are always looking for the unique element – I believe there is room for some degree of predictability.
First off, there is the conventions of the genre. This can be very broad, but I believe it’s the most important form of predictability. Readers pick up certain genres because they enjoy the conventions of that type of story. A reader of classic sword and sorcery will not be pleased to find space ships and vampires half way through the novel. Pick your genre/sub-genre, learn your genre, and gain an understanding of what some of the most common or popular elements are. The fantasy/paranormal sub-genre of vampire romance involves – you guessed it – vampires and romance. If your story is lacking these key elements, then it’s not a vampire romance.
Another “predictable” element in most fantasy genres is the hero (or heroine). The hero is usually the main character, although there can be main characters who would not be classified as the hero. I won’t go into great detail about archetypal hero elements and classic storytelling techniques, and it’s certainly not a requirement to follow an archetypal path. But I would argue that most readers of fantasy genres (even dark fantasy) expect to see a heroic character or at least a heroic element in stories. The uplifting, the overcoming of all odds, the growth of the main character – all of these should be found to one degree or another in most any kind of story, but especially anything in the fantasy realm.
Another important element is good versus evil. This is more than a protagonist versus an antagonist. A “force of good” versus a “force of evil” – whether embodied by individuals, creatures, societies, or something else – is expected in most fantasy genres. Most readers of fantasy expect at least a few battles, and an idea of a good guy versus a bad guy. Conflict drives plot and character development in any story, and all of the fantasy genres provide rich fodder for conflict on every scale.
These are very loose guidelines, as they should be. Every genre – especially fantasy – should be open to the author’s creativity. But just remember that with all the unexpected elements, don’t neglect the expected.