Why twists suck (and why they don’t)

I want to apologize for being late on this one – I thought that I had one more scheduled and this could go up next Friday, but I realized today that the one update I had remaining was scheduled for Tuesday. That one’s going to be moved to Friday so I’ll have time to get something else written up, but in the meantime, enjoy this commentary on story twists:

If you’ve seen a film by M. Night Shyamalan that was written after Signs, you know full well that twists aren’t necessarily good things. However, if you’ve seen Attack on Titan, played the first Bioshock, or watched the Sixth Sense (remember? not all of Shyamalan’s movies sucked) you also know that twists can be really really good. Why is that? Why are some twists boring, stupid and annoying while others are jaw-droppingly awesome?

In my humble opinion, a twist needs to do three basic things: it needs to make sense, it needs to be well foreshadowed, and it needs to change the audience’s perspective on previous events in the story. A fourth thing it can do is change the entire direction of the story, but that’s optional.

For instance, (spoilers for the awesomeness that is Attack on Titan – manga form, mind, I don’t watch the anime) when the female Titan breaks off part of the gigantic wall in her escape, we learn that the wall is filled with Titans. At that moment, we also see that the wall-worshipping priest already knew and is quickly advising them to plug up the hole before the Titan regains power in the sunlight. This is a great twist, and is, in my opinion, perfectly set up. First of all, the wall is a constant in this story – from the very beginning we hear about how the wall has saved humanity from being destroyed by Titans… and then it turns out that the ENTIRE THING is full of the human-eating monstrosities everyone was afraid of. Not only that, the priest (who appeared to be the religious straw-man up to this point) is suddenly cast in a new, much less insane light: he knows exactly what’s going on and his previous desire to keep the wall completely unaltered makes much more sense than ‘because Gooooooooooood!!!’.

Second, it was perfectly foreshadowed. We learn very early on that the walls around individual towns that are right on the edge of the three great walls were built after the great walls themselves to compensate for their lack of manpower. Go back and look at the two walls, one filled with titans and the other built by human hands. The titan walls are smooth(ish) and aside from the gates are entirely unbroken. The human-made walls, on the other hands, are made of regular ol’ brick and mortar.

Third… the priest AND the wall are shoved into new light by this twist. When I was first reading it, the wall-priest seriously ticked me off. I figured this would just be the author’s way of going on a “subtle” diatribe about how ‘haha, religion is stooooooooopid’. Strawmen in general are annoying as hell, but religious strawmen are also overdone as fuck. And then, lo and behold, this guy KNEW ABOUT THE TITANS IN THE WALL HE CLAIMED TO WORSHIP. He’s NOT a complete nutball!!

Bioshock’s famous twist during your conversation with Andrew Ryan (which is so awesome and relies so much on the fact that you don’t know what’s coming that I STILL refuse to spoil it out of principle) does this perfectly as well. I’m sorry I’m being vague about this, but if you’ve made it to that part of the game, you know what I’m talking about: it fits the theme, the story, and all that good stuff.

So what makes a twist suck?

In my mind, it’s largely because some writers seem to think the most important thing a twist do is surprise the viewer. This is a very big problem when a writer forgets the twist also needs to make some degree of sense, both within the story itself and thematically.

Take one of Shyamalan’s works: Devil. Now, the story set up actually sounds pretty frightening: a bunch of strangers are trapped in an elevator together, and every time the lights go off, someone dies. And it turns out at the end that the first victim – the old lady – is the killer. On top of that, she’s the devil. We’ll ignore the stupidity of how they determine that and instead look to the twist itself.

Now, the old lady being the killer comes completely out of nowhere, but imho it could’ve worked. Saw pulled off a similar twist beautifully enough that an entire legion of fans now goes to see every one. The problem is that it makes absolutely no sense for the old lady to reveal herself as both the killer and the devil while she’s BEING RECORDED AND LIVE ON CAMERA!!! So instead of being shocked and thrilled by the twist, you just scratch your head and go ‘wah?’

Sure, it’s unexpected, but it would’ve also been unexpected for a giant buzzard to burst into the room, announce itself as the killer in  a cockney accent, and then fly off to britain to make love to its dual-gendered transexual spouse (no, I don’t know how that would work), it doesn’t mean it would make any sense

Again, contrast this to Attack on Titan. Not only did it make sense that the priest would already know about the titans in the wall (somebody has to, after all) but it helped explain how the walls were built. It also fit thematically, since the sudden realization that the entire wall is filled with titans was a very dark element (in a story where, in the first chapter, the main character watches his mom get eaten while being carried by someone who could’ve saved her that decided to run away like a coward. So… yeah. Dark, dark, DARK.)

So what do you guys think about story twists? Let me know in the comments below! Like, reblog, follow, and all that jazz! 😛

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