Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Let’s Do the Twist

I’ve been giving some thought lately to twists. You know, those places in a book or movie where the story takes off in a [hopefully] unanticipated direction, where the reader/audience says, “Wow; I didn’t see that coming.”

It seems to me that twists ought to be quantifiable. I guess it’s the academic in me, always analyzing and trying to compartmentalize things. But what is a twist, at its most basic, except a bit of information the protagonist (and reader) has that turns out to be wrong? Some of the most common twists are:

-Someone the protagonist thinks is a friend turns out to be an enemy.
-Someone the protagonist thinks is an enemy turns out to be a friend.
-Someone we think is dead turns out to be alive.
-Someone we think is alive turns out to really be dead.
-Something believed lost is not really lost.
-A character’s supposed motive is seen to be impossible.
-A character has a motive that was never suspected. (This doesn’t only apply to mysteries; think of romantic comedies where the hero woos a woman on a bet.)
-A family relationship turns out to be different from what was believed (an “aunt” turns out to be a mother, a child discovers he’s adopted, etc)
-A character we think is a man turns out to be a woman, and vice versa

I’m sure there are many, many more variations on the theme. So how about it? What can you add to the list?


Charles Gramlich said...

How about, 1) apparently supernatural events turn out to have natural causes after all, or the reverse of that.

liz fenwick said...

Great idea to list twists.

That's a good one Charles.

There's something lurking in the back of my brain but won't come forward. Maybe its to do with illness and recovery and vice versa but I don't think that's it. I must still be to immersed in writing mode. Will mull over and come back later.

cs harris said...

Do you mean someone who seems to be ill or incapacitated is not, Liz? That's a good one.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I think a twist in character is a great twist. Planting the seeds, slowly developing the character, then having the character act in a way which changes everything works for me. I'm not just talking of open betrayal. I'm talking about the sudden display of courage, the unexpected display of affection or lust, and the sudden expression of anger and outrage.

And Charles' twist is fun too, providing it doesn't have that "Scooby Doo" feel to it. You know, where the monster is unmasked and turns out to be the old guy at the carnival. Ruh-roh.

Steve said...

Unreliable narrator is actually bad guy (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and assorted variations)

The setting itself is a sham (Shutter Island, The Matrix)

cs harris said...

Is that a twist, Stewart, or character development? And how do you feel about the unreliable narrator, Steve? I feel cheated in a way I don't with the other kinds of twists. I hadn't thought about the sham setting. In fact, it makes me realize I was focusing on PEOPLE twists, rather than other possible kinds of twists.

Steve said...

To be honest, the unreliable narrator feels like a gimmick. I picture Agatha Christie sitting in her bath with her apples and chortling, "Haha, they'll never see *this* one coming!"

Come to think of it, she also used a twist I missed (hey, a rhyme!): ALL the suspects did it, in Murder on the Orient Express.

Those sorts of twists for their own sake are mostly useful as a way to keep cozy fans guessing. I'm not much of a cozy fan...

Stewart Sternberg said...

I think it is character development in that it is a logical development, however the twist comes when the character acts in a way that surprises the reader. Hmmm...now I'm going to have to rethink this. Maybe character development is more appropriate a term.