Write great protagonists!
I'll be at Storymakers
Tips organized by topic
Read about me
Editing Services
Read Testimonials
Learn the "bones" of story

Monday, August 15, 2022

The Quinary Principles of Plot: Reveals & Twists

Reveals and twists are a great way to take a plot to the next level. Already, some of us are likely recalling specific books or movies that had jaw-dropping reveals or twists--the kind that stick with us for years, if not decades, after.

Over the last two months, I have been breaking down what a plot actually is and what it actually contains. . . .

In the primary principles, we covered goals, antagonists, conflicts, and consequences.

In the secondary principles, we covered progress, setbacks, costs, and turning points.

In the tertiary principles, we covered plans, gaps, and crises.

In the quaternary principles, we covered setups, payoffs, and connections.

And today we will be finishing up the series with two of my favorite things: reveals and twists.

Just as a warning, there will be spoilers from . . . Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Squid Game, and The Sixth Sense

Why are the Quinary Principles "Reveals & Twists"? 

A big reveal and a powerful twist can be very effective in a plot; however, they are more of the juicy cherries on top, than critical components. You can have a strong plot without them, but they have the potential to blow minds. This is why they are the last pieces of our series.

Like the others, they also build off what came before. 

Powerful reveals and twists are achieved through setups, payoffs, and connections, create turning points (through consequences), and play off gaps. And depending on the reveal or twist itself, it can relate to the other plot elements as well.

If you want to take a strong plot to the next level, then adding a reveal or twist can be a great way to do that.

The best reveals and twists have sound logic and strong ramifications, which we'll talk about more in here.

Reveal Critical Information

Like several of the other elements in the series, I debated what term to use for this. For a while, I considered talking about "mysteries," but ultimately decided that "reveal" is a broader term that encompasses more situations.

Technically, a "reveal" (i.e. revelation) will happen many times in any decent plot. Arguably, any time new plot-pertinent information shows up in a story, it's a "reveal." Recall that a turning point can only happen one of two ways: a revelation (information) or an action (event). The revelation or the action is significant enough (because of stakes and ramifications) that it turns the trajectory of the story. It sends the narrative in a new direction.

In this sense, just about anything can be a "reveal." But for this series, I want to talk about Reveals --you know, the ones that send your mind reeling and your lungs gasping.

Often what makes great Reveals is that they have even more significant consequences than just any "reveal." Their ramifications ripple out further or deeper than most information . . . 

. . . The most impactful reveals (Reveals) often require setups, with the reveal itself acting as the payoff. But this isn't the case for all of them. So let's talk about the different types. Personally, I break these down into three categories. . . .

(Register for The Triarchy Method for full information)

Twists Shift the Context

Twists, by nature, must include a reveal. It's a reveal of very unexpected information that creates a significant gap--because what the payoff is, is different from what is expected.

Twists work by changing the context--in other words, our understanding--of what came previously. We thought the reality was X, but it's actually Y.

We thought Luke Skywalker's father was literally dead, but he's actually only figuratively dead: Darth Vader is Luke's father. This is a big reveal, in part, because it creates a huge gap. The whole time prior, we believed him to be dead. The idea that Darth Vader could be his dad, seems unthinkable.

. . . until we glance back within that new context. . . .

. . . This means that unlike some reveals, there must be setups for twists. Typically if the audience can't find the answer to the gap in the past, they will wait to get the answer. But for a twist to be satisfying--to not feel like a cheat made up on the spot for shock value--we need . . .

(Register for The Triarchy Method for full information)

Avoiding Shock Value: Logic & Consequences

We usually don't want to come off as if we are putting in reveals and twists only for shock value. Yes, they can be shocking--and sometimes the more shocking, the better--but they need to be more than that. They need to hold their own on the plot level. Meaning, even if they weren't shocking, they'd still have integral value to the plot.

This is done by making sure the reveal or twist has logic and consequences.

The logic comes from the past.

The consequences come from the future. . . .

(Register for The Triarchy Method for full information)

In Conclusion

And now we have completed the principles of plot (which again, are actually quite different from structure).

I started this series by disparaging the definitions of plot. It only seems right to end with a new definition.

With that said, in a dictionary, it would be ridiculous and unrealistic to include all of what we have covered--though to me that is what plot is. But if we were looking for a pithy way to describe it, I would stick to the basics. 

A plot is the aggregate of a character pursuing a goal that has an antagonist creating conflict, which leads to significant consequences.

And one might want to add . . . 

Its events are often structured with an inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action.

. . . just to keep the structure people happy 😉. But that's more of an add-on.

Then again, I also like this definition that Will left as a comment on an earlier post:

Archetypes moving through time to solve a problem. Or, archetypes standing steadfast against a problem over time.

Hopefully after this series, you are ready to write even better plots! I know I am.

Articles in This Series

What Plot is NOT (How NOT to Fix Your Story's Plot!)

The Primary Principles of Plot: Goal, Antagonist, Conflict, Consequences

The Secondary Principles of Plot: Progress, Setbacks, Costs, Turning Points

The Tertiary Principles of Plot: Plans, Gaps, Crises (Sample)

The Quaternary Principles of Plot: Setup, Payoffs, Connections (Sample)

The Quinary Principles of Plot: Reveals & Twists (Sample)


Post a Comment

I love comments :)