The inspiration to ask & answer this question came from a comment made by Matthew Dave on this reply: https://writing.stackexchange.com/a/38648/16555

I've also been asked that before, by a student: "What is an inevitable narrative"?

EDIT: Although it's really difficult to explain questions of the form "What is X?", I'll attempt it.
The reply linked to above mentions how an inevitable narrative refers to "plots where everything is a logical consequence of what has preceded"
So, what does that mean in practical terms? When writing a novel, how can we make a narrative be inevitable and why is that a good thing?

So, here goes:

  • you cannot post your question as an answer, that's not how the site works :) You should try to post your whole question in the question section, and leave the answer space for other users' replies.
    – FraEnrico
    Sep 6, 2018 at 6:41
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    At first I edited it according to your suggestion, but I now reverted it to the original form. Isn't the "Answer your own question, Q&A style" box supposed to be used precisely the way I did? Why would the answer to a question be included in the question box? At least that's how I understand it based on this: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/132886/… If I'm wrong, explain why :) Oh, and it goes without saying that anyone can post their own answer or comment ;)
    – user16555
    Sep 6, 2018 at 6:49
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    Ok, I guess I got it wrong. I thought you were just expanding your question. My bad. In this case yes, it's perfect legit to answer your own question. But in this case I suggest you to edit your question to make a bit deeper and clearer than just "What is X", because you can't assume that everybody is familiar with that concept. You should add, for example, a bit of context of when you can encounter that expression (other than the link you used). Just my two cents.
    – FraEnrico
    Sep 6, 2018 at 6:51
  • Perhaps a fair observation, though it's hard to reformulate a question to be deeper and clearer when it is in the form of "what do we mean by X". It's a bit like asking to reformulate the question "Could you please explain what is string theory?" :) At least I can't come up with a proper way to do that in the question. That's sort of why the answer exists there in the first place. If you have a specific suggestion though, I'd be glad to hear it :)
    – user16555
    Sep 6, 2018 at 6:58
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    I've put this question on hold temporarily because we really need to be able to tell from the question what the question is. (Q&A is harder than a blog post that way.) If you can only understand the question after reading answers, it doesn't fit our format. Can you edit this to make the question more clear? Self-answers are fine but they have to meet the same standards as other questions. Thanks. Sep 7, 2018 at 2:38

1 Answer 1


Narratives are Journeys

A novel is a work of art that tells a story. It is a journey (perhaps we could talk about a Grand Journey, being the sum of several journeys), taking the protagonist - and vicariously the reader - from point A to point D.

However, and this is the crucial point, journeys in narratives should not usually be linear. You don't go from point A to point D simply passing by B and C. Indeed many inexperienced writers (particularly of genre fiction) fall for that trap.

Think of it like this: you leave your house on your way to visiting your friend. You could conceivably go straight there, put you could also pass by the park or the lake, the liquor store or the supermarket. This
a) makes the journey more interesting
b) opens up the opportunity for choices

It's exactly the same thing with narratives. You, the author, have full freedom to choose the path from point A to point D.

With one crucial detail, which takes us to...

Inevitability in Narrative

Yes, you can choose anything you want leaving your house on your way to your friend. You can choose to go to the liquor store. However, this choice limits your choices from that point on. In our example it means that visiting the liquor store you don't have enough money for the supermarket. This entails some inevitable repercussions for the journey.

For instance, it means you can watch the game with your friend while drinking beer, but you can't have pizza. If you passed by the park on your way to your friend's you could talk about the interesting shrubs you saw. But you can't talk about the ducks swimming in the lake, because you didn't pass by that location.

This is a very simple example, for sake of clarity, but in a full-fledged narrative the author is dealing with literally countless such divergence points. We don't consciously think most of them, so the work has to be made subconsciously.

Inevitability in Endings

The most crucial aspect of inevitability in narrative is the ending. The reason is that that's where it all has to come together. And so, an inevitable narrative is one where the ending feels simply like a sum of everything that has occurred by that point. In our example, an inevitable ending is you watching the game with your friend drinking beer. Again, it comes off as self-obvious, but that's only because the example is very simple (practically binary).

A strong marker of an ending that is not inevitable is if you don't know what to do with it. And perhaps the strongest marker of avoidable endings is if you need to come up with a fanciful solution to justify it.
- "I'm hungry man, you didn't get any pizza"
- "Well, whaddaya know! I accidentally forgot I had these burgers in my backpack"

Inevitable endings/narratives are not always easy, but they're the only ones that don't come off as cheap.

Source and Further Reading