The Random in the Fiction

Warning: may turn into pointless waffling. Also contains spoilers for an episode of Bones called “The Plain in the Prodigy” (Season 5, ep 3). If you’re a fan you may want to stop reading so.

Something occured to me the other night while watching Bones. Something kind of writing related. So I thought I would share. It may well be that everyone else knows this already. Certainly, I knew this already but I’d never seen it demonstrated so susinctly as a “Bad Thing”.

I love Bones. Normally I sit and giggle the whole way through, enjoying the characters, the interplay, the grisly murders… all the normal things a girl wants to watch on a worknight. And this episode was great, up to a point.

*Spoilers follow* with added waffle…

In brief the murder victim is Amish. He is also a talented piano player with a natural gift. Delicious conflict. A misunderstoood group at the core. All sorts of suspects turn up from his father, his potential brother in law and a couple of music students who befriend him.

Now I have a very bad habit while watching films or tv. I suspect it comes from writing, but I tend to pick out plot points very quickly, especially in murder mysteries where the phase “Shut up, Ruth” has been known to be uttered within the first five minutes. But I couldn’t work out this one. I was delighted watching it, despite the nasty flu-like symptons that were dogging me.


the killer turns out not to be any of the suspects. NONE of them. And turns out to be some random lad who had broken into the apartment looking for money. The entire plot was, in effect, a big giant and fairly stinky red herring.

And as a viewer I was left there going.. huh…

Not even huh? with a question mark. Just … huh…

Because that’s a bit of a betrayal right there. It’s not the first time they’ve done it either. And I’ve seen it elsewhere. There seems to be a trend for these endings where “omg it could happen to anyone”, “life is random”, and “we’ll wrap everything up in five minutes of slow motion and meaningful music/voice-over at the end, because we couldn’t actually work out a meaningful resolution to this one”.

And this sort of thing doesn’t work in fiction. Sure it happens in real life, like coincidences, and bumping into the very person who could help you out in a fix turning a corner on the street.

But not in fiction.

Fiction is a constructed world which must fit together logically and flawlessly. We’re already asking the reader/viewer to suspend disbelief. It goes a bit far to ask them to believe a random event you haven’t set up throughout the story. Perhaps part of the fun in reading is to pick up on the clues as you go along, trying to piece together what will happen and building your own expectations.

That’s where stories like this fall down – reader expectations. You’ve spent all this time setting up a story but then give no meaningful resolution. And the reader feels cheated.

And grumbles.

And has to eat lots of chocolate.