To me, a plot twist is like a riddle of sorts and/or a puzzle of sorts. Drop down a few hints and use them to figure out the solution. To get a better idea of what I'm talking about(and to answer the topic's question) look at The Lord of The Rings, The Return of the King. Not the book in particular, but the movie.
When the Witxh-King of Angmar said "No man can kill me" to Eowyn when he is about to kill her, we assume that nothing can kill him(also due to the Witch King hearing a prophetic message, but this was WAAAAAY earlier). However, when Eowyn revealed herself by taking off the helmet, she says "I am not a man" and kills the Witch King. What happended? Eowyn was obviously of the human race, which the Witch King says that "no man can kill me". However, the prophecy said nothing about a woman. That is the twist. We are given clues and are confused, but when the pieces fall together, that's when we go "OOOO, now I get it!!" Hoped I shed some light.
There's the classic "Luke, I am your father."
I've noticed that surprise twists are much easier to pull off in TV and movies than in print. In those media, it's easy to include something without pointing a gigantic sign to it, as there are dozens of elements in a scene that serve no purpose to the plot. Does the fact that there's a vending machine in the background have significance? Odds are, no, so you don't really pay attention to it. However, in a book, every word is precious, so if you spend a sentence or two on that vending machine, you have signaled to the reader that it is important, and they'll be on guard for it to do something.
The same thing holds with the example Brandon gave. In a movie, it's easy for those lines to be delivered while sneaking it past the audience that there's a qualifier in there. But when you read "no man can kill," as the reader is consciously processing the words, "man" sticks out more and more. The more that phrase is repeated, the more likely it is that the reader will take notice of its careful construction well before the big reveal.
I'm thinking the three Star Wars "prequels" pretty much killed the plot twists in the original three. It's obvious in the first three that Annakin "Darth Vader" Skywalker is Luke's father...and the the way Yoda is introduced in "The Empire Strikes Back" is just pointless now.
I remember being surprised by how things developed in Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End...they all grew out of what went before, but you can't say you expected any of them.
quote:I'm thinking the three Star Wars "prequels" pretty much killed the plot twists in the original three. It's obvious in the first three that Annakin "Darth Vader" Skywalker is Luke's father...and the the way Yoda is introduced in "The Empire Strikes Back" is just pointless now.
And that Leia is Luke's sister, so the little love triangle subplot between Leia, Luke and Han is totally killed, too.
I'm not a fan of the prequels. I think they destroyed more of the original story than they illuminated. Ultimately, for me, they still failed to really develop the evolution of Anakin into Darth. I get that he was impatient. I get that he was afraid of losing Padma as he'd lost his mother. (And let's not forget that Padma had to be at least ten years older than Anakin.) I get him being seduced to the dark side by the Emperor because of his weaknesses. But there was nothing in the movie that made me believe he would participate in the massacre of the Jedi children or attempt to kill the very woman he'd gone over to the Emperor to protect. Just lost me, right there and everything else rang wrong from that point on.
Those three movies could have been a lot better thought out.
One of the themes I'm seeing in this discussion is that it's significantly easier to pull off a twist in a movie than in a novel. I think it has to do with POV. The twist has to be something that the POV character doesn't know and can't foresee (and that no one else would reasonably tell him).
Think of "Frailty". If you had to write that from the POV of Adam. How could you possibly hide who Adam really is or what he really intends to do? It works in the movie (more or less, and I don't think it holds up to really close scrutiny) only because you can't ever really know what the character is thinking.
@JSchuler: I love your explanation for the Star Wars prequels. Just a bad dream, indeed.
[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited July 11, 2010).]
But it was written first - as a screenplay. Anyways, it wouldn't be too difficult to novelize it. It would be a 3rd person POV between the Agent and Fenton interlaced with series of 1st person flashbacks of Fenton describing what happened to the agent. Until the end that is, when it between the Agent and Adam. Just like in the screenplay.
Why choose Adam's POV. That's the twist. You wouldn't write it from Adam's POV. The screenplay is written from Fenton's POV - but you find out only at the end that it's Adam.
quote:Why choose Adam's POV. That's the twist. You wouldn't write it from Adam's POV. The screenplay is written from Fenton's POV - but you find out only at the end that it's Adam.
That's my point. If you were in this character's POV as he begins to tell the flashbacks, it would be withholding or at least certainly a cheap trick for the reader not to know that it was Adam, not Fenton. There's no way I can think of for Adam to begin the flashback and then have the flashback be from Fenton's POV. A writer would certainly have to let the reader know about the POV shift. You could still write the story, but you couldn't conceal that important fact and you would necessarily lose the surprise twist ending.
They only get away with it in the movie because a movie (almost) never truly reveals a character's thoughts and emotions. Just their actions, dialog, and whatever the actor is able to (or wants to) convey along with that.
quote:BTW which part didn't hold up?
It holds up fine during the movie. But, if you think about it much after (which I'm prone to do with good movies) you realize that a lot of the Fenton story is told not only as if it was from Fenton's POV, but for parts of it (notably the cellar), Adam wasn't even there. How can Adam possibly tell what was happening to Fenton at that time?
[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited July 11, 2010).]
I suppose you all can be thankful that George Lucas hasn't done the next three movies in the Star Wars saga, that he said he was planning to do way back when---or at least thankful he hasn't done them yet.
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> However, in a book, every word is precious, so if you spend a > sentence or two on that vending machine, you have signaled to > the reader that it is important, and they'll be on guard for it > to do something.
This is where misdirection comes into play. You make the vending significant for some other reason than the twist. You make it an object of humor (Civilization has ended, the zombies are after us, and the vending machine only has Fresca left. Who drinks Fresca?), or a minor plot point (You put our last five dollars in the vending machine, and it won't give change? How will we get on the subway now?), or the trigger for some character development (Bob kicks the vending machine several times to vent his frustration, but resists the urge to kick in the glass and just take the food).
If you do that, the reader has an explanation as to why the vending machine is mentioned and will not be looking for the twist that reveals alien robots have been disguising themselves as non-functional vending machines in order to observe humanity.
[This message has been edited by EricJamesStone (edited July 11, 2010).]
That's my point. If you were in this character's POV as he begins to tell the flashbacks, it would be withholding or at least certainly a cheap trick for the reader not to know that,it was Adam, not Fenton. There's no way I can think of for Adam to begin the flashback and then have the flashback be from Fenton's POV. A writer would certainly have to let the reader know about the POV shift. You could still write the story, but you couldn't conceal that important fact and you would necessarily lose the surprise twist ending. ________________________________________________________________
And that is the reason why I had to tell my latest story from an observer's POV. If I told it from either of the two characters the story revolves around, there would be no surprise at the end. I also needed someone who could observe all the action taking place and tell it from that person's POV. To do that, I had to create a new MC who wasn't originally part of the story.
I've just finished the second draft and think handling the story from this "observer's" POV has worked quite well.
Just thought I'd add the best movie that wowed me with a dynamite twist was called (I think) "Flawless". You think you know exactly what's going on and then BANG! it's not what you thought at all. A great movie and very well done... I just hope I got the title right. It's been awhile since I've seen it and deals with the London Diamond Exchange.
[This message has been edited by Crystal Stevens (edited July 11, 2010).]
I saw that in a Janet Evanovich just a few months ago. Stephanie's ex had hidden something in a clock, but it was the comic argument over the clock's true owner that got my attention. It went into the back seat of her car with some other object, I think a suitcase. Anyway, I thought it was the suitcase that contained the MacGuffin, but it was the clock.
I read a novel recently that used misdirection. It was Kristin Hannah's Firefly Lane. Not my usual choice of book, but it had a cute cover, and it was free, and any book that sits on my shelf long enough will get read, no matter the genre.
Anyway, so the book is about these two best friends who grow up together and stay friends their whole lives. It's a milieu story where the milieu is the duration of the friendship. At the beginning the author sets up this major betrayal, and you think all along that there will be an affair between the one friend who stays single, and the best friends husband.
But they never have an affair. Ever. Instead, the author out of nowhere gives the married friend cancer, and then kills her. Completely threw me off, and in turn I had the strongest emotional punch in the gut I've ever had from reading a book. I couldn't contain my emotions at all, and yes yuck, however.
I'm never going to read that book again, however I'm also never going to forget it.
It's a kind of a bait and switch, I guess, but I fell for it. I would love to do that to someone else. ~Sheena
I agree with Eric's comment on misdirection. Easy to say but hard to do. Authors that do this well are just awesome.
I think JK Rowlings did a good job with this in several of the Harry Potter books. Probably the best (at least for me) was the Goblet of Fire. I thought there were some pretty awesome twists in that book which were hidden well by misdirection.
But I think you have to be careful about twists. I am reading a book right now with a passive POV character. She really is just watching the story and commenting on it and doesn't have a lot at stake other than being a love interest of the character the story is really about.
I have the feeling the author chose her as the POV to set the reader up for a plot twist that wouldn't work from the POV of the MC because he knows too much. I am a little frustrated with this. I think the story would be more interesting from the MC POV even if it ruins the plot twist that I am pretty sure is coming if I can wade my way through the book.
I guess my opinion is don't sacrifice the story just to set up an amazing plot twist. Readers have to find the story interesting enough to actually get to the twist.
And KDW, Fight Club does have a good plot twist.
[This message has been edited by MAP (edited July 13, 2010).]