One Thing I Learnt About Plot Twists From A Horror Movie

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Although I won’t post a full review of it (since I missed five minutes of it due to a scratched/damaged DVD), I recently watched a videogame-inspired horror movie sequel called “Silent Hill: Revelation”. One element of this film made me think about plot twists and how they can be ruined if the writer doesn’t think carefully about the characters.

Needless to say, this article will include some SPOILERS for “Silent Hill: Revelation”, you have been warned.

To summarise the events leading up to the plot twist – the film focuses on an American teenager called Heather Mason who has to keep moving from town to town regularly because she believes that her father is on the run from the police. She has also been suffering strange nightmares about a town called “Silent Hill”, in addition to disturbing hallucinations.

When she starts at a new high school, she ends up reluctantly making friends with another teenager called Vincent who later helps her flee when it turns out that it isn’t the police who are after both her and her father. Instead, it’s a mysterious cult that wants to take Heather to a cursed town called Silent Hill, so that they can use her in a ritual (for reasons that make more sense if you’ve seen the first “Silent Hill” film and/or played the classic “Silent Hill” games).

Of course, it is later revealed that Vincent was born and raised in Silent Hill and has been tasked with luring Heather there (even revealing an occult sigil that had to be carved on his chest in order to allow him to leave the cursed town). This is supposed to be a dramatic plot twist, but it just didn’t quite feel right. It took me a while to work out what was wrong with it, but I learnt an important lesson about plot twists in the process.

The plot twist doesn’t work because Vincent doesn’t seem like he was actually raised in the cursed town of Silent Hill. Even though the film tries to brush over this by having him make a comment along the lines of “oh, this is perfectly normal to me” when both he and Heather encounter monsters and crazed cultists later in the film, it still doesn’t really feel right in dramatic terms.

But, why? Well, Vincent comes across as a perfectly “normal” kind of person earlier in the film. Unlike the psychological torment that Heather clearly goes through at the beginning of the film, Vincent seems fairly laid-back and ordinary. He isn’t shocked and confused by the modern world, and he also seems to display at least a vague understanding of modern technology (despite being raised in a town that is permanently frozen somewhere in the 1930s-50s).

n other words he doesn’t actually seem like he was raised in Silent Hill. Everything about his personality etc… seems to suggest that he was raised somewhere less horrific. So, when it’s revealed that he has lived most of his life in Silent Hill, it just doesn’t make sense!

One of the oldest rules about plot twists is that they have to be foreshadowed. In other words, there have to be some subtle clues that (theoretically) allow the audience to guess the twist before it happens. This is important for dramatic reasons because it shows that the events behind the plot twist have had an effect on other parts of the story. In other words, it shows that the plot twist is actually part of the story – rather than something the writers just pulled out of thin air at the last minute.

The best, and easiest way to foreshadow a plot twist is just to show some of the knock-on effects that it has on the rest of the story, without giving an explanation. To go back to the “Silent Hill: Revelation” example, the fact that Vincent seems more “normal” than Heather completely contradicts the idea that Vincent grew up in a nightmarish monster-filled town run by a bizarre cult.

In other words, his personality should have been used for foreshadowing. Even if the film just showed him jumping when he heard a noise similar to the air-raid sirens from the town, or something like that – then it would clue the audience into the fact that he’d spent some time somewhere dangerous. But, since they wouldn’t have any more information than this, they still wouldn’t guess the plot twist – although it would make considerably more sense in dramatic terms.

So, yes, characters are an important part of any plot twist – and, when writing a character who is involved on a plot twist, you should think about what effect the “hidden” events of the plot twist have had on that particular character.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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What A Nightmare Taught Me About Plot Twists In The Horror Genre- A Ramble

2016 Artwork Nightmares and horror fiction article sketch

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote an article about writing (and storytelling in general). It’s also been a while since I wrote about the horror genre too. Even so, I’m going to have to start this article by talking about my dreams for a while.

As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later – although I should warn you that, since this is an article about both nightmares and the horror genre, it may contain some disturbing descriptions. But, I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.

The night before I wrote this article, I had a nightmare (which was probably caused by the fact I was watching “Supernatural” at the time). It wasn’t really your garden variety anxiety dream, it was an actual nightmare – with creatures and everything. Well, one mythological creature of some kind, a monster hunter and everyone else.

The interesting thing about this dream was that it wasn’t actually seriously scary until the very end. Yes, this dream actually had a creepy plot twist.

The twist was, of course, that I (unknowingly) turned out to be the ancient creature that the monster hunter had been following. I haven’t even seen “The Twilight Zone” and even I know that this twist is taken directly from that show.

In retrospect, this melodramatic plot twist should have been obvious – given that the monster hunter shot me within two minutes of the dream starting ( at the time, I just assumed that he was aiming at someone else and had missed). Not only that, when I actually saw the bullet wound later in the dream – it was surprisingly small, almost painless and totally bloodless.

Then again, this wasn’t really that shocking for the simple reason that, in most other nightmares that I’ve had, any horrific injuries that I sustain are almost always totally bloodless and only mildly painful at most. It always seems perfectly normal at the time for some reason.

No, the really creepy part of the dream was the sudden change in the emotional reactions of everyone around me towards me when it was revealed that I wasn’t as human as I thought I was.

Although I overheard the monster hunter talking about the creature earlier in the dream (and mentioning that it can be harmed with milk), it wasn’t until after I’d seen my injuries in the mirror that the monster hunter suddenly appeared behind me and poured a glass of milk over my head.

Although the milk produced a theatrical cloud of smoke and some loud hissing sounds, it wasn’t particularly painful or frightening. It was everyone else’s shocked and/or hostile reactions that startled me into waking up quickly.

So, why am I talking about a nightmare that I had? What does any of this have to do with storytelling?

Well, it has to do with how plot twists are handled in the horror genre. As anyone will tell you, all good plot twists should be foreshadowed earlier in the story. To make a plot twist truly shocking, the reader needs to see a couple of subtle clues about it earlier in the story that theoretically give them a chance to work out the twist before it is revealed.

In the horror genre, readers expect a lot of strange and horrific things to happen. They expect tragedy, unusual characters and bizarre events. As such, there’s a lot more room for horror writers to hide clues about upcoming plot twists than there is in many other genres.

For example, I mentioned that all of the injuries in my nightmares tend to be totally bloodless. Most of the time, this just feels like an “ordinary” part of the dream – except for the one time that it was actually a clue that I was actually some kind of ancient creature. If this dream had been anything other than a nightmare, the fact that a gunshot hadn’t really hurt me much would have been a huge clue that something wasn’t right.

Another thing to remember about plot twists in the horror genre is that at least half of the shock value comes from the way that the characters react to these plot twists.

Yes, even if the twist itself is extremely shocking, it’s often only truly horrifying when the characters actually react to it. Regardless of whether they react with abject horror or with cold indifference, character reactions are an extremely important part of any plot twist.

Again, the truly frightening part of my nightmare wasn’t the fact that I was some kind of immortal ancient creature (since this, in itself, would be kind of cool). It was the fact that the people around me suddenly saw me as some kind of monster that had to be killed in the most horrific way possible. That was the true horror of the nightmare!

So, remember to foreshadow your plot twists carefully and – more importantly – remember that your characters’ reactions can make the difference between a scary plot twist and a silly plot twist.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Adding A Plot Twist To Your Story? Foreshadow it!

2013 Artwork Foreshadowing Sketch

As I (very cleverly) hinted in my previous article, foreshadowing is something which every writer should do if they want to include a plot twist in their story.

If you are not sure what foreshadowing is, then it basically means hinting at things which will happen in the future. In other words, if you’re going to add a plot twist to your story, then you need to leave a few subtle clues about it before it happens. Otherwise, it isn’t a plot twist – it’s a rather cheap and melodramatic “Tomato Surprise” which can leave your readers feeling more than a bit cheated.

The reason why foreshadowing is so important is because all stories consist of a logical progression of events. If you look it up in a dictionary, this is probably what you will find under “story”. As such, throwing something completely unexpected and illogical at your readers will probably confuse them and break the suspension of disbelief which is essential for most stories.

Foreshadowing your plot twists avoids this by giving your readers enough subliminal hints that your plot twist could at least possibly be a logical and believable part of the story.

The real trick is to make sure that you foreshadow your plot twist in a way that means that most of your readers won’t guess it before it happens but, when they re-read your story, they will suddenly notice all of the little clues which hinted at the plot twist later in your story. This is, of course, a way of giving your story “added value” to readers who are re-reading it too.

I’d give you a list of examples of stories with very well-written plot twists, but this would inevitably involve ruining the surprise. But, if you want an old and well-known example, then read Ambrose Bierce’s excellent short story “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge“.

One plot twist you must never use without a lot of foreshadowing is the classic “it was all a dream” plot twist. This is an old plot twist and, more likely than not, your readers will still feel cheated unless it is done in a new and innovative way and there is a ton of very clever foreshadowing.

Ok, how do I do this “foreshadowing” thing?

What you need to do to foreshadow a plot twist is obviously different for every story and every plot twist, but here are some of the more well-known ways of foreshadowing plot twists. Be aware that because they’re so well-known, your readers may be more likely to spot them, so if you can think of a more inventive foreshadowing technique- then use it!

Anyway, without any further ado, here are four common ways to foreshadow a plot twist:

– Double meanings: You have to be careful with this one, since it can reveal your plot twist if it’s done badly, but if you include a few lines of dialogue which have double meanings (one referring to the plot twist and one referring to another subject) then this can be a good way of foreshadowing a plot twist. However, it has been done quite often, so readers might be more aware of it than they might have been a few decades ago.

One cheesy example of this could be if you are writing a horror story where the plot twist is that the man who your protagonist is dating is actually a vampire (and not one of the harmless, sparkly types of vampire either). Then you could add a few lines of dialogue earlier in the story where the vampire says things like “yes, I go out drinking every night” and “I’m not really much of a morning person” etc… These both refer to the fact that he’s a vampire, but they also have perfectly innocent explanations too.

– Mystery: If there is something slightly mysterious about a character or something subtly strange about the setting of your story, then this can be a good way of hinting that there could be something else going on without actually giving your readers any explicit clues.

One well-known example of this in sci-fi fiction is the flawed utopia. Everything in a city/planet/spaceship looks perfect – but very slightly too perfect. Of course, it isn’t long before the main characters learn that there is something far more sinister going on behind the scenes.

– Misdirection: This is where you distract the reader with something else whilst you hint at your plot twist. This technique works best in comics, films etc.. but it can also work well in prose fiction if it is done carefully (eg: burying a subtle clue about a plot twist in a conversation about something far more interesting).

Another clever, but more difficult, technique involving misdirection is to add a few “red herrings(note: this link contains spoilers to ‘The Da Vinci Code’) to your story which lead your reader to expect a plot twist which is very different to what the actual plot twist is (although this must be done in a way that the “clues” could reasonably be applied to either plot twist).

-Hiding it in plain sight: This can be truly spectacular when it’s done well. Basically, you don’t hide the clue itself but you don’t tell your readers that it’s a clue. This one is kind of similar to the previous point on this list, but it has to be handled slightly differently.

In essence, this works best with things which are part of the scenery (for example, a mysterious old statue outside the house where your horror story is being set) or elements of a particular character (for example, a character has a mysterious scar with a seemingly logical explanation to it etc….)

Just remember to either have a character talk about or see something related to the plot twist. Going back to my earlier example about the statue, you could have your protagonist talk to someone else who briefly mentions myths about statues. Or your protagonist briefly read the title of an old book which mentions living statues whilst he or she is looking through a pile of other old books [this is also a good example of misdirection too].

Of course, if the clues are subtle enough, then when the statue suddenly comes to life and starts attacking everyone near the end of the story – then your readers will be shocked, but they won’t feel cheated.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful to you 🙂