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Friday, May 9, 2014

A trend in thrillers and mysteries that I wish would die (plus a compliment)

Well that didn't work out to plan. See the point here is for someone to send me something to critique, and if there was an interesting thing to point out, I focus on that, especially if I had to crit a chapter, since chapters plus my crit would probably run too long.

However, I just finished reading a short story someone sent me to critique and... well... there wasn't much wrong. I had one suggestion to improve the big reveal (it's a locked-room mystery), but then, even as it is now, the reveal has a surprising (although it makes perfect sense) twist that makes the reveal worth-while, even if it could have been a bit more of a surprise.

Would you like to read the chapter? Sure you do. Here's the link.

Ooh. I actually do have an interesting point to raise coming from this crit. Plot twists and how they work. (Sorry if this is rambly. I had a 13 hour day thanks to a wedding where I have to arrange flowers. But I'll try to remain lucid enough to get the point across.)

Right. So everyone loves plot twists. They make readers scream, squee, cry, laugh with glee.... They take readers from one emotional extreme to another, making the reading experience feel like a roller coaster the reader wants to take again.

The thing is, plot twists have been exploited so many times that they do lose some of their effect. Especially the "It's a twist because you didn't get to see the main character doing something incredibly important to the plot. Get it?"

No... No I don't.

Mmm... I'm probably saying this because exhaustion lowers my inhibitions, but hey, it's my opinion, so here it is:

Those aren't plot twists. They're cop-outs.

And they kept being used again and again. Oh sure, they do take the reader's from extreme to extreme. But instead of: "OMG. OMG! OMG!! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ah AWESOME!!!!!" or even better: "OMG. OMG! OMG!! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OH SHIT!!!!!"

These "twists" are more of an: "OMG!!!................... Oh."

Horrid, horrid use of exclamations, I know. Guess they're all escaping while my inner editor sleeps. Point is, taking readers to high stakes and massive tension and then dropping them on their asses is just lame. Really.

Sadly a lot of your run-of-the-mill bestselling thriller writers employ this tactic. I think people get dazed and dazzled by the adrenaline high followed by the crash after. Maybe it's like eating candy. After a sugar crash you crave more sugar, don't you?

Plot twists done correctly elevate stories to other realms entirely. It's like 80% dark chocolate compared to a cheapy milk chocolate (I.E. fake twists).

Sadder still than the fact that these fake twists get abused is the fact that with a tiny bit more effort, a much more effective twist could be achieved.

All it takes is leaving breadcrumbs of information, leading readers right where they think they're headed, except you as the writer would be leading them somewhere else entirely.

Simply put, people are used to all sorts of information creeping into a story. So if  you put all the building blocks to your big twist out for them to see, in a way that makes them seem unrelated or unimportant, the reader will only see the whole picture when you reveal the twist, which basically acts as a way to put all the pieces together. And if that twist has mind-blowing effects on the characters/story/stakes... even better.

And truly brilliant writers can do this without hiding anything from the reader. A plot twist should be a moment of clarity when the reader sees everything they missed before, and is shocked because 1) s/he missed the clues and 2) at the MASSIVE repercussions those clues actually have.

So yes, PJ, if you're reading this: I called you a brilliant writer.


4 comments:

P.J. Bergman said...

Thanks so much for the feedback Misha! Really appreciate you taking the time to critique the story.

Interesting post on the nature of twists - I've always been a fan of locked room mysteries as they tend to focus on the how of the crime rather than the who and why. The genre lends itself to rewarding twists as the concept is available to the reader from the very start.

I'll be posting further chapters soon to www.TheLockedRoom.com, so will integrate your comments into other stories as well.

Thanks again!

mshatch said...

"A plot twist should be a moment of clarity when the reader sees everything they missed before, and is shocked because 1) s/he missed the clues and 2) at the MASSIVE repercussions those clues actually have."

Totally agree.

Trisha F said...

I'm not at all confident in my ability to ever successfully pull of a plot twist. I just don't think it's my strength. ;)

Elizabeth Seckman said...

It's all in the bread crumbs. Stuffing made of anything but cubes of bread is just fill.