Friday, February 17, 2012

Turn the Tables

First things first: I'm so sorry for the lack of reviews on Tuesday and Thursday. I totally forgot to put into consideration the fact that I have debate on those days, so I think I'm going to make Saturdays and Sundays "makeup days." You know, to make up for post(s) I was supposed to post earlier in the week but never did? :)

Now. This post is about Adele and plot twists. Hang around. (This one's for you, Adele.)

I think we all know that I love Adele, but you know, tributaries and all! :D I'm so glad she won all those Grammys. :)

Anyway, so, the reason why I titled this "turn the tables" is not only a tributary to Adele's song, Turning Tables (my favorite), but also about how that works in stories. About plot twists and surprises we as readers are so often splashed with. And I'll talk about what works and what doesn't, at least in my opinion.

Plot twists, I think, play an integral part to all stories, because they are the hook that stifles the fish. They are the thing we never see coming from, and whatever reaction we anticipate--bitterness, joy, anger, depression--it will at least, hopefully, cause a reaction. But I'm sure there are those of you out there who haven't been... well, impressed, with a twist in a book. So, what makes a twist plausible and mind-blowing?

For me, three main things:

1) Motivation: Whatever the twist may be, the character must have plausible motivation for that decision. We don't just wake up one day and say, "Hey, I think I'm going to betray my best friend today!" Work in hints--foreshadowing. I wrote a post about all things subtle a while back, if you want to dig into the details. But basically, give your characters a why. Why must Andrew tell everyone Julia's secret? Why must Susan kill Olivia? Yet, I think, the most common mistake is motivations that don't make sense. If your character has been in love with this one guy for years, she's not going to suddenly go steal her best friend's boyfriend. You could make her do so, but that would cause a major eyebrow raise for me, which, by the way, isn't really a good thing. ;) Here's an example of what I personally think is foreshadowing done right:

When Jacob died, Alice's face paled so completely, she was like a crushed snowflake. Her fingers shook and trembled, and she could not speak, for any attempt at speech froze at her throat and melted away. It was as if she was the one dead, not Jacob. Yet--and her heart yearned--to look one last time at her beloved. When she asked, there was a sudden seriousness in the voice of the minister, refusing her request. In fact, he refused all requests to see Jacob's body. She couldn't believe it. Could the murderer have perpetually ruined Jacob? Suddenly, Alice could not breathe.


"Alice." Jacob stood in the doorway,  a knife in his hands.

HAHA! I am not giving away a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g! But see? Can you see the foreshadow in the first paragraph? What do you think is going to happen? DUN DUN DUN. I should mention, also, that Jacob has a deadly history--one of psychiatrists and assassins and murders. I, personally, think that's some good plausible foreshadowing...

2) Possibility: Sometimes, we like to get creative and throw out something completely out of the blue and say, "There it is! My fantastic, never-going-to-be-guessed-because-it's-too-awesome plot twist!" Except... sometimes those plot twists aren't a possibility at all. If your story takes place on land, it would be quite a task to convince the reader that your protagonist was actually a giant anglerfish and she's been transforming herself to eat little shrimp every night, even though we were told that she was a vegetarian. (okay, okay, that was kind of an extreme example, but you get my point, right?) I think the most common mistake here is that sometimes, we feel like we need a twist, but just can't think of anything, so we throw out the most insane things. Now, some of those things could actually work and completely turn the story 360-degrees, like Across the Universe. Some other choices we make are... questionable. I suggest asking yourself these questions:
  • Does this twist pertain to the characteristics of your world?
  • Does this twist fit the personality and traits of your character(s)?
  • Is this twist actually possible considering your story's parameters?
  • Does this twist correspond with previously given information?
If you answered yes to all of those questions, then chances are, you've got your twist right where you want it to be. If not... hey, well, we can't all have flying rainbow unicorns in our stories, can we?

3) Stakes: A twist must have a high stake in it, whether physically or emotionally. The twist about your hair suddenly acting all crazy on prom night? That's not really a "twist," because it won't affect the character irrevocably. Unless, of course, you decide that her wild hair is actually because she is an Irish Goddess and under the prom night moon, she will finally regain full power or something. (If anyone writes a story about Irish Goddesses, please tell me. I need to read it.) Anyways, I digress. My point here is that, no matter how genius your idea of a twist is, it must have some sort of high stakes for the character and the reader. If we don't care, and it was supposed to be the Biggest Twist Ever, things aren't lookin' so hot for ya.

Wow, that was a long post. Sorry for all the rambling. I hope you all learned something, and let me know your general thoughts in the comments below! Or you could just share you love for Adele with me. :D

"Next time I'll be breathing,
I'll be my own savior."

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