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Earning Your Twists

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 8, 2018
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There's nothing more intense than subverting the audience's expectations: The righteous character that always says the truth says a lie. The character that values all life ends up murdering someone. The bad sort, the punk that's always terrible ends up saving the day or doing something decent.

BUT…

There's also nothing worse than throwing such a subversion in the plot, without actually earning it. It will feel forced, shoehorned, a copout, a sham. It will annoy or even anger your audience in the same way a customer buys medicine but then discovers it was snake oil.

What does it mean to earn a twist in the plot or in the character's reactions or behavior?

It means that every reaction must have its roots in an action that already took place and the impact of which gave rise to the particular reaction that is causing the subversion, the twist, the surprise in our story or our character.

And every such primary action that will force a character to act or react beyond their normal trajectories and framework has to be shown in some manner. It doesn't have to be in a linear manner, but it just has to be there.

There often seems to be a craze with authors and scriptwriters to surprise and ‘one-up’ the audience to the point that they do it at the expense of the plot and the narrative- by omitting scenes that would hint at what is coming for the observant viewers/readers, by completely hinting at a different thing altogether and then pulling the rug out from under the audience- a rug that previously wasn't even there, like some kind of ACME prank in the Roadrunner cartoon.


case in point

But when something like this happens, it's the equivalent of cheating the audience. It also comes across as cheap- as if the authors couldn't be bothered to write a proper build up and just threw a twist in for shock value to mask the poor quality of the plot. And audiences won't buy it.

It's better to accept (and even enjoy) the fact that SOME people in your audience WILL see the twist or the surprise coming- and that's fine! Some people in life can predict or deduct more things than the average person, and as a result they will also be able to surmise what a plot will lead to if that plot is good enough and solid enough to obey basic cause-and-effect relationships in its progression.

In the end, what the audience is looking for is a good, entertaining story- not a challenge of wits with the author like an awkward bras-de-fer.

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comment

anonymous?

irrevenant at 8:15PM, Sept. 11, 2018

An interesting effect of modern fanbases is that a lot of the time someone will guess what's going to happen next in the story BUT there will also be dozens of other people making equally plausible contradictory guesses. So even if the correct answer is out there already there's still a lot of guesswork for the audience around WHICH theory - if any - is the right one.

irrevenant at 8:12PM, Sept. 11, 2018

I think it was Eliezer Yudkowsky talking about his 'Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality' fanfic (read it, it's cool!) who said that it's better to overforeshadow than underforeshadow because things often seem more obvious to you as author than they do to readers.

irrevenant at 8:09PM, Sept. 11, 2018

Can't agree more that it should be guessable. If it's moderately hard to guess then the few people who do guess it get to feel (justifiably) smart and the people who didn't guess it will go "Oooooh, that makes sense!" at the reveal. And both groups enjoy it. It's win:win.

JustNoPoint at 8:17AM, Sept. 9, 2018

I’m with Amelia. I had people saying I had twists in places I didn’t view as a twist at all!

bravo1102 at 8:33PM, Sept. 8, 2018

E.A. Poe, Ambrose Bierce, O. Henry, Stephen Vincent Benet. They were good with twists. Read the stories carefully and you saw them. Oft times the "surprise " would mirror a previous scene. Careful writing and planning are essential. And careful reading of the scribbled note titled "mind fuck!" you did at 3am.

AmeliaP at 4:02PM, Sept. 8, 2018

I need a twitter account... But I didn't even update my Instagram.

AmeliaP at 4:01PM, Sept. 8, 2018

"It's better to accept (and even enjoy) the fact that SOME people in your audience WILL see the twist or the surprise coming- and that's fine!" I can tell you it's a strange feeling when you think you're writing an obvious story on purpose and the readers think it is unpredictable o__o. And it's worse when you think you're writing a story easy to follow and the readers think it's intricate and complex. That's the beauty about the feedback. You can write it more like you wanted next time.

usedbooks at 6:48AM, Sept. 8, 2018

Heh, you know, that came up in the Gravity Falls commentaries too. Creator Alex Hirsch explained what would be required for protagonist Dipper to actually make a deal with villain Bill. Which would be very out of character. In that case, it was desperation, a ticking clock, and a "trick" to the deal. (That box set was such a good investment for helping me write better.)

bravo1102 at 5:55AM, Sept. 8, 2018

To connect this to the previous "stakes" newspost, the creator could always raise the stakes to the point where the character MUST do something seemingly outside of himself to succeed. There is no other choice. The old Bugs Bunny "I'll do it, but I'll hate myself in the morning" But then you have to have set up the character as someone capable of doing that or able to find it within themselves to make that kind of choice as opposed to playing it by the rules. Raise the stakes sky high where there is NO other choice. It's do this or --- Watch the movie The 27th Day to get an idea of that kind of story or Village of the Damned.

usedbooks at 4:20AM, Sept. 8, 2018

(Or the bad guy who pretends to have a change of heart only to gain the advantage.)

usedbooks at 4:17AM, Sept. 8, 2018

@Paul Absolutely agree. I love when a character is tested and pushed to the brink and doesn't falter especially if staying true to character is the harder choice. (Also true for "bad guys" who are given a chance to redeem themselves but refuse.)

PaulEberhardt at 4:04AM, Sept. 8, 2018

Not to mention that you don't actually need to put in any surprises to make a character interesting. I believe most audiences can tell the difference between a truly complex character and one that just shows one random twist after another. In some cases, the fact that character doesn't stray an inch from his/her path can be the surprise in itself (for example a totally stoic, Mahatma Ghandi-like character you'd expect to snap any minute from what he has to put up with, but miraculously stays true to himself and remains totally cool). I guess that's just as difficult to pull off successfully as inserting a major twist.

usedbooks at 3:51AM, Sept. 8, 2018

One movie that did a twist extra well was Shutter Island. I definitely recommend it. From the very beginning, you can start piecing it together if you are observant enough. It works particularly well since the actors do such a great job that you can pick up little behavioral things. If not, just watch it a second time and watch all the clues present themselves. It even has a well done "red herring" three quarters through that would fit the clues and make you second-guess your deductions. (A good mystery is a two-reads/watches story, one that lets you go back and look for all the clues and gives you plenty to find.)

usedbooks at 3:38AM, Sept. 8, 2018

It also really pays to have someone who can give feedback on scripts. By the time art is done, it's hard, if not impossible, to plug plot holes. I have a couple people to bounce things off of. If one of them asks "Why?" especially about a character's actions (or inaction), I know I need to either change the action or preface/explain it (sometimes it is in-character, as I know it, but the character is internalizing and not revealing to the audience -- which is not a technique I like to use).

usedbooks at 3:11AM, Sept. 8, 2018

I can't abide characters going out-of-character. I suck at twists and tend more toward gradual curves. :P I put in as many hints to "secrets" starting as early as possible and becoming more obvious until any reader who is trying to deduce things will have deduced it. (I only wish I had audience feedback to suggest anyone actually picks up on those hints. -_- But I never do, so I have no idea if it works.) I also have a couple predictably unpredictable characters who improvise their ways through things. Not really a twist since it's their normal MO.


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