Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Twist (Plus Ted Dekker Exaltations)

                Five minutes into a horror movie: “No one’s touched her, no one’s spoken to her directly, she’s already dead.

                At the end of the horror movie: *groans from my entire family*

                I take pride in my ability to predict things, whether it’s in a book or a movie. More often than not, my predictions are correct, whether I’m guessing the Big Twist, the next victim, or some insignificant little detail that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

                I like predicting things, and being right. It makes me feel like a writer, because it involves a lot of thinking about what I would do if I were writing the story in question. But you know what the only thing better than being right about the end of a story is?

                Being wrong.

                Having the rug pulled out from under my feet, totally and completely.

                I’m writing this post approximately two minutes after finishing The Priest’s Graveyard, by Ted Dekker. I like Teddy. I’m a fan. I’m not always impressed with certain aspects of his style (although I’ve actually had people say that my writing style is similar to his. XD Oops) and occasionally part of the book or the characters will disappoint me…

                But his plots. Always so intricate, sometimes woven together across books and series and worlds… He’s got one twisted mind, and I love it.

                I haven’t enjoyed his newer books as much, but The Priest’s Graveyard renewed my respect for his mastery of plotting and scheming. I was towards the end of the book, getting into it, waiting smugly for aspects of my earlier predictions to come true.

                When WHAM, he hits me with The Twist. The lovely hurricane of awesomeness that whips me off my feet and has me flipping pages frantically to reread an earlier section.

                Remember last week’s post about Foreshadowing in Plots? Yeah. Ted Dekker is the epitome of that.

                Yes, my vaguer predictions were semi-correct, but I didn’t have a clue about the Big Twist, despite the fact that he gave us plenty of hints, which I noticed when I went back to check. It wasn’t just a convenient “Hey, what if I made this happen out of the blue! 8D”

                It was planned. It was deliberate. It was hinted it at all throughout, and I am still freaking out about it.

                That’s the kind of story I love, and that’s the kind of story I want to write. I want to be the writer that can send her readers scrambling, and get them shrieking in the middle of a crowded van on their way home from family vacations. I want to write the books that people can read over and over again, discovering new hints every time.

                I want to write books for people like me, who like to predict things and love to be surprised.

                He’s already dead. Darth Vader is Luke’s father. The partner is a double agent.

                Ahem. On a more serious, less adrenaline-fueled note…

                We all want to surprise our readers, and doing it well can be one of the things that makes your story stick in someone’s head. The key is to do it well. When you jerk the rug out from under your readers’ feet, you want to have a cushion waiting to catch them. Not concrete.


·         Plant Hints – Like I talked about in last week’s post. Foreshadowing. There should be a thread tying everything in your story together. After the Grand Reveal, your reader should be able to flip back through the pages and find hints that were subtly pointing them in the right direction. Like I alluded to at the beginning of this post, if no one touches a character, and if no one addresses them directly, it can be safe to assume that they’re already dead. Picture a movie with this kind of twist, and remember how they made their Grand Reveal. Chances are, it involved a flashback scene where it showed you all the hints you may not have picked up on, as if to say “Heh, look how good we fooled you! ^^” Now think about your story, and see if you can find the scenes and snippets that would go into such a flashback.

·         Plan Ahead – It’s best to work backwards. Maybe you don’t have your Big Twist planned right as you start writing, but hopefully you discover it sometime between the first page and the Grand Reveal. You can always go back and add in the foreshadowing, but try to avoid coming up with a twist off the top of your head that has nothing to do with the story itself. A prime example? “It was all just a dream.” Cue groaning and chucking the book at the wall.

Which brings us to Tip Number Three…

·         Avoid Clichés - There are plenty of lists out there compiling dozens of ‘twists’ that are severely overused, to the point where they’ve become relatively easy to recognize. If you wait until the Grand Reveal scene to actually figure out what your Big Twist is, you might slip into one of these clichés without realizing it. If you do it well, it could still be an enjoyable story, but it will be much harder to fully surprise your reader, and you’d better be prepared to spend lots of time making it feel original and fresh. The movie I alluded to at the beginning of this post? Maybe I wouldn’t have guessed the ending so fast if I hadn’t already seen The Sixth Sense. A good rule of thumb is, the first time you see a Big Twist it’s genius. After a few more sightings it becomes recognizable, and eventually you reach a point where it starts to get old.

·         Stay In Character – If your Big Twist involves the happy little neighbor girl revealing her identity as the chainsaw-toting serial killer, then you’d better have planted some of those hints alluding to the darker side of her character. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a character do something so outrageously not them that you start to question if the author knows their character as well as you do. More on this in an upcoming post. ;)

So… Are any of my fellow predictors out there? What movies or books have really swept you off your feet, and what awful attempts at a twist left you landing flat on your face?


  1. Hey there Silent!

    I must say, I don't recall knowing in the first five minutes, but somethings have been overdone too much.

    Have you seen the movie The Tourist, with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp? I was so surprised at the end, maybe because I refused to stop and think: I was just following the action. Then I rewatched it with my sister who knew right away what was going to happen because she'd seen it in another movie.

    I was pissed. :D

    It's always fun rewatching a movie when you know how it's going to end, because you start picking up on the little things, things you didn't notice before.

    Great blog post. I've never read anything from Ted Dekker. But I'm a huge fan of Dean Koontz, and I completely understand what you mean when you say you've been disappointment by his late, as of late. Same for me.

    Great post!


  2. Haven't seen the Tourist yet, but I've seen the previews. ^^