Friday, May 20, 2011

Twists and Revelations

Keeping a plotline fresh and exciting is hard to do.  There is no "right" way to do it so authors and artists go looking for new ways to tell old stories.  This often results in creating a "twist," a surprise change in the plot that shifts how everything ends.  These are fun to do sometimes, and creates a new story out of an old plot.

That said, they've kind of been over done.  In a sense, twists are now kind of cliche in their own right.  The reason isn't because twists are bad, they aren't, but because they can be done poorly.  It's so easy to poorly do them, I think I'll take some time to go over HOW to do it right, and how to play out the revelation angle.

The first thing to keep in mind when doing a twist is to plan for it.  Simply tacking on a twist for the sake of having a twist is a big, BIG mistake.  Twists need some amount of planning, how much will depend on goals of the twist.  Just throwing a twist in without any forethought as to how it will effect the story will be obvious and apparent very quickly.

Once the plan is in place, a nice trick is to start leaving clues.  The best twists usually have hints laying throughout the piece that indicated the twist is coming. This is a lot harder than it might sound at first.  Planning to add a twist is one thing, planning out the hints and clues that lead to that twist is something else.  They must be subtle, just under the point that most people would notice something off, but not quite grasp the significance.  Too obvious and the twist is utterly spoiled.  Too subtle, and it'll be missed entirely and the pay off won't work.

The nice thing about webcomics is that they are a visual medium where the artist can focus the reader's attention on a particular visual.  This can come very handy when highlighting clues.  That said, clues aren't strictly necessary, but it depends on the situation and the twist itself.  Think carefully before trying to build them into the story.

Once the time for the twist arrives, the revelation of it takes center stage, and this is also how things can get broken.  Revelations of this nature often fall back on words, lots and lots of words.  Explaining how the twist came to be and what led to it can take a lot of time and words, which can break the action of a story, especially at that climactic moment.  Breaking the action can hurt even a well crafted story, and wordy revelations can do it.

A good way to help alleviate that is to again, take advantage of the visual aspect of comics.  Let the pictures tell the revelation, and with enough planning and set up can help a lot.  Especially if clues are set into the story, flashing back to those moments can also do the trick.

Another option is the flashback.  Again, break in the action, but there are ways around it.  Spreading out the flashback throughout the story can act as both a set of twist clues and a set up for the revelation at the end very easily.

The big thing here is don't over explain things.  Keep it short and sweet, odds are most people will get it quickly enough not to need panels of dialog to explain things.  If there are extra things that must be explained, save them for after the climax and it should do alright.

Twists are fairly common, so don't be surprised if someone calls out the twist well before it shows up.  This brings me to another important element:  Leave room to change the twist.  If it becomes TOO obvious what the twist is, change it, or even use it as bait to set up the real twist to the story.  Leave just enough wiggle room that there is more than one answer to the puzzle and changing things to fit the new situation or simply to bluff the readers can keep even the most cliche of twists from becoming boring.

Well, that's enough for today.  Next time kiddies. 

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