What An Old Metal Album Reminded Me About Writing Plot Twists – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about foreshadowing plot twists in fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking about music (or, rather, my reactions to music) for a while. As usual, there’s (sort of) a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A while before I wrote this article, I was looking through my CD collection for an Offspring album I bought in 2008, but which continues to elude me. However, in the course of searching for it, I dug up my old copy of Nightwish’s “Century Child” album. This was an album that I bought when I was about sixteen because I really liked three songs from it (“Feel For You”, “Dead To The World” and “The End Of All Hope”).

Looking at it again, I happened to notice that one of the songs on it that my sixteen-year-old self had ignored was none other than “Ever Dream”. This has been one of my favourite songs ever since my early-mid twenties, when I first discovered it on Nightwish’s “End Of An Era” DVD/CD boxset.

Although I already knew that a studio version of “Ever Dream” existed, I didn’t think that it could compare to the transcendentally brilliant live version on “End Of An Era” (or even the more modern live versions and cover versions that can be found on Youtube). Still, out of curiosity, I decided to listen to it. It was a surprisingly emotional moment.

It took me a while to realise why I’d had such a strong reaction to hearing this version of the song. It was because had been there and ready for me, silent and unnoticed, for many years before I actually needed it.

It was also very possible that my younger self had listened to this song and either failed to remember it or failed to grasp the significance it would later come to have for me. Suddenly, it almost felt like fate. Like, somehow, it was meant to be. Like there was some kind of hidden order or structure to the story of my life.

In other words, it felt like a real-life plot twist. Or, more accurately, it felt like a real-life example of a plot twist being foreshadowed.

One of the easiest and most emotionally-powerful ways to foreshadow a plot twist in fiction is simply to hide it in plain sight. To show the audience something that just seems like an ordinary background detail, but which takes on a much greater level of significance later part of the story.

This can either be something that has some historical significance to one of the characters (where the plot twist is about why it is so significant) or it can be something that isn’t important in the earlier parts of the story, but which becomes incredibly useful or significant to the characters later in the story.

So, why are these types of plot twists so emotionally significant?

Simply put, it’s because they create a sense of fate. They show the audience that the writer has carefully planned the events of the story (eg: the whole idea of “Chekhov’s Gun). They also tap into the fascinating idea of astonishingly brilliant things hiding in plain sight, which is something that some of your audience might be able to relate too.

For example, unknowingly owning a copy of my favourite song 5-6 years before it became my favourite song is hardly the first time that something like this has happened to me. I saw copies of my favourite novel (“Lost Souls” By Poppy Z. Brite) semi-regularly in the horror section of bookshops for about 6-7 years before I actually read it. Likewise, my first encounter with the cyberpunk genre (eg: reading “Tom Clancy’s Net Force Explorers”) happened, and was forgotten about, quite a few years before cyberpunk became one of my favourite genres.

So, yes, hiding essential parts of your plot twists in plain sight can pack a real emotional punch if done well.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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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 🙂

Using Double Meanings To Foreshadow Plot Twists In Comics, Stories

2017 Artwork Game of thrones plot twist foreshadowing article sketch

Well, although this is a quick article about foreshadowing plot twists in comics, stories etc… I’ll have to start by using a TV show as an example.

As such, this article may contain some mild SPOILERS for the first season of “Game Of Thrones”. Likewise, I’ll also be describing a slightly disturbing scene from the show (albeit one that isn’t quite what it appears to be).

The night before I wrote this article, I started re-watching the first season of “Game Of Thrones” (with a plan to re-watch the first three seasons) and one of the things that really surprised me was the number of subtle clues about future parts of the story that I noticed in the early episodes. Most of these were really cleverly handled and they can probably teach us a lot about foreshadowing.

One of the best examples is in one of the early episodes where Daenerys Targaryen (an exiled princess who has been forced into an arranged marriage for political reasons by her scheming brother) is taking a bath after a particularly terrible day.

Just before she steps into the bath, one of her servants tries to warn her that the water is too hot – but she steps into it anyway, with only a weary expression on her face.

If you see this scene for the first time, then it comes across as a slightly disturbing visual symbol for Daenerys’ weariness and/or psychological pain. Perhaps even a visual metaphor for the fact that she’s in “hot water” due to the forced marriage.

However, when re-watching the episode, you’ll probably notice that Daenerys is completely unharmed by the hot water. This is something that just comes across as artistic licence unless, of course, you’ve seen the next episode where it’s revealed that she cannot be harmed by fire (a fact which becomes more important near the end of the season). It’s actually a very clever example of the show foreshadowing a later plot twist.

This, of course, made me think about how double meanings can be used to foreshadow plot twists in comics, books etc… Since all major plot twists have to be foreshadowed in some way or another, double meanings can be a very good way (out of many) to disguise these mandatory clues from your audience.

So, how do you do this?

Simply put, you need to know what your plot twist will be before you even start your story or comic.

Once you know what your plot twist is, try to think of any small knock-on effects that it might have on other things in your story. After all, the events that lead up to a plot twist don’t magically appear when the plot twist is revealed, they’re lurking in the background of the story for a long time before then.

Once you’ve found what some of these knock-on effects are, try to think of alternative explanations for them that make sense in the context of your story or comic. In subtle ways, try to trick your audience into taking this alternative interpretation instead.

Going back to the example I used earlier, Daenerys probably already knew that she couldn’t be harmed by high temperatures before she stepped into the bath (after all, she probably just considered it a “normal” part of life and has probably done it before). This is, of course, a “mundane” knock-on effect of the fact that she’s immune to fire.

However, the audience doesn’t see any of Daenerys’ thoughts – so, at first glance, it looks like she’s deliberately harming herself. Other than showing that Daenerys is physically unharmed by the water, the show does very little to contradict this interpretation.

So, yes, thinking of alternative explanations for some of the side-effects of your story or comic’s plot twist can be a very clever way to give the audience a few clues, whilst also misleading them at the same time.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

One Sneaky Way To Include Plot Twists In Your Comic Or Webcomic (Using Verticality)

2017 Artwork Verticality And Plot Twists article sketch

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about one interesting way to include plot twists in your comics that I discovered when I was making several webcomic updates that will be posted here in early-mid April.

As you probably already know, comic panels are usually read from top to bottom. In fact, if a panel of your comic contains more than one speech bubble, then the first one should always be closest to the top of the page and the last one should be closest to the bottom of the page. Here’s a very quick and basic diagram.

A very basic diagram, showing how comic panels are read from top to bottom.

A very basic diagram, showing how comic panels are read from top to bottom.

But, did you know that this “verticality” in comic panels can also be very useful when including plot twists in your comic?

Since the dialogue in a comic panel is usually closer to the top of the panel, the important parts of the art are usually placed at the bottom. What this means is that you can include a plot twist in the artwork itself, that won’t be noticed by the reader until after they’ve read the dialogue. Like this:

This is an expanded version of the diagram from earlier in the article, showing how you can include plot twists in the artwork.

This is an expanded version of the diagram from earlier in the article, showing how you can include plot twists in the artwork.

For example, you could include some dialogue at the top of the panel where your characters talk about reports of a strange creature that has been sighted in the local area. They could laugh and joke about how silly the idea it is. But, as the reader finishes reading the dialogue and looks at the artwork below, they could see a pair of glowing red eyes peering through a window behind one of the characters.

As you may have guessed from the horror-themed example I just gave, this technique can also be used to create an approximation of horror movie-style “jump scares”, or as a subtle way to ratchet up the levels of tension and dread in your horror comic.

But, since this technique can be used for horror, it can – of course- also be used for comedy too. The principle is basically the same, except the art can contain something that amusingly contradicts the dialogue above it.

This is a fairly simple and basic technique but, when used well, it can certainly add a lot more drama, horror and/or humour to your comic 🙂

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Visual Foreshadowing In Webcomics

2016 Artwork Foreshadowing in webcomics

Well, since I’m still making a webcomic mini series that will be posted here in early – mid November (this article will contain some SPOILERS for it), I thought that I’d talk very briefly about one very basic technique that can be useful when making humourous webcomics. I am, of course, talking about visual foreshadowing.

If you don’t know what “foreshadowing” is, it’s a writing technique that is used to make plot twists more believable. This technique involves giving the reader a small clue about the plot twist before it happens. If it is done well, then the reader will probably miss this clue and will only notice it after they’ve read the plot twist.

So, if the readers aren’t supposed to notice or fully understand the clue, then why is it there? It’s there to show that the plot twist is part of a logical progression of events. it’s there to show that the plot twist is an integral part of the story, rather than something that the writer just pulled out of nowhere when they were feeling uninspired.

But, what does any of this have to do with webcomics? Well, if you’re including a joke with some kind of twist in the punchline, then it can sometimes (but not always) be a good idea to include a small amount of foreshadowing in your comic. Although this can be done through dialogue, it’s often best to do it by hiding a small visual clue in the background.

For example, the joke in the final panel one of my upcoming webcomics revolves around one of the characters painting some graffiti on the side of a beach hut. If you know the characters, then this plot twist might not be that surprising. However, I needed some way to hint at this plot twist before it actually happened, so that – to new readers- it wouldn’t seem so random or unusual.

In the end, I did this by including one corner of the beach hut (with a very small part of the graffiti visible) in the background of the first panel. It was also signposted slightly by having one of the other characters look in it’s general direction.

Although this is a fairly blatant example of foreshadowing, it works for the simple reason that although the readers know that there’s a hut on the beach, they don’t know why it’s there or what significance it will have (since the graffiti is mostly obscured by the edge of the panel) until later in the comic.

Of course, this is just one example of visual foreshadowing. But, I hope that it gives you some insight into how to use it in comics. But, the thing to remember here is that it isn’t always needed in every comic that includes a humourous plot twist.

Since comedy is one of those genres where “anything goes”, you can sometimes get away with including unforeshadowed plot twists if they’re just used as a throwaway joke, or if foreshadowing might ruin the pacing of the joke.

However, if the plot twist is fairly large, or it relies on a visual joke (that subverts expectations that you’ve set up earlier in the comic), then adding a small amount of visual foreshadowing can seriously improve your comic.

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Sorry for the really short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Spoiler-Proof Your Story Or Comic

2016 Artwork Spoiler Proof Your Story Or Comic

First of all, it goes without saying, but this article will contain spoilers. More specifically, it will contain major spoilers for “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie, “Fight Club” and “Blade Runner”. But this isn’t quite as much of a big deal as it might sound.

The fact is that we live in a world where people are extremely wary of having other people give away key plot details from stories, films, TV shows etc… that they haven’t seen yet. And, yes, I can totally understand this. No-one likes having the ending ruined before they’ve even started reading or watching.

But, if you’re actually writing fiction or making comics, then how do you make them spoiler-proof? How do you make something which isn’t affected by spoilers? Here are three of the many possible ways that this can be done:

1) Curiosity: Back in 2009, I bought and read Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” purely because someone spoiled the ending for me. I’m glad that they did.

“And Then There Were None” was, quite frankly, one of the most unsettling and frightening horror novels – sorry, I mean, detective novels – that I’ve ever read. If you’ve never heard of this book before, I’ll give you roughly the same spoiler that I was given “It’s a murder mystery, where literally all of the characters are killed.

On the surface, this would seem to ruin the ending to the story. But, like I was, aren’t you curious about how a murder mystery story can end in this way. After all, if nothing else, shouldn’t the murderer and/or the detective survive? Who would be left to solve the crime? How, like in all good detective novels, would the events of the story be explained at the end?

Believe it or not, all of these questions are actually answered in a satisfactory way. But, you have to read “And Then There Were None” if you want to find those answers…

The thing is that if the plot twist at the end of your story or comic is so unusual, imaginative and/or innovative, then a spoiler won’t put people off of reading it. It’ll actually make them more curious about how it’s done. It’ll make them curious about how a writer was actually able to include a plot twist like this.

2) Quality: If your story or comic relies entirely on dramatic plot twists to keep the story going, then it’ll be a lot of fun to read. Once. And that’s only if you haven’t read spoilers beforehand.

However, if the quality of your writing, the quality of your characterisation, the quality of your artwork and/or the quality of your ideas are good enough, then spoilers aren’t so much of a big deal. Why? Because although people might already know how your story or comic ends, there’s a lot of other stuff there to keep people interested.

To use a good cinematic example of this, just take a look at “Fight Club” (the film, not the Chuck Palahniuk novel that it’s based on – which has a slightly different, and extremely confusing, ending).

This is one of the more famous films from the 1990s and it has certainly left it’s mark on popular culture. If the whole point of the film was just the plot twist at the end (eg: Tyler Durden is actually the main character’s alter ego), then it would have been forgotten a couple of years after it was released.

But, of course, the plot twist is just the icing on the cake. The film has retained it’s popularity because of everything else in the film -such as quotable dialogue (eg: “The first rule of fight club…”), the film’s subversive attitude, the film’s clever cinematic tricks and the film’s strange cast of characters.

This is also the reason why film, comic and TV adaptations of classic stories like Sherlock Holmes are still so popular. Even though everyone already knows how these stories end, people still watch them because they’re curious about how the writer, artist, director and/or actors will interpret a familiar story.

3) Ambiguity: One of the best ways to make your story or comic spoiler-proof is to make your plot twists very slightly ambiguous. In other words, leave them slightly open to interpretation.

You’ve got to be careful with this approach because, if you make your plot twists too ambiguous, then it’ll just confuse your readers. But, if you make them slightly ambiguous – then spoilers won’t be an issue.

Why? Because there are different ways of interpreting what happened. Not only will this make your audience debate parts of your story for years, but it also means that if someone who has never read your story or comic happens to read one of these discussions, then they’ll be exposed to several possible interpretations. The only way that they’ll be able to make up their own mind is to actually read your story…..

Another good cinematic example of this kind of plot twist can be found in both the 2007 final cut and the 1992 director’s cut of Ridley Scott’ “Blade Runner” (but not in the original 1982 version of the film).

These versions of the film alter the ending slightly to hint that the main character (Deckard) might unknowingly be one of the synthetic humans (“Replicants”) who he has been hunting throughout the film. However, this is done in a rather subtle and ambiguous way.

In the final scene, Deckard and Rachel (a replicant who he has fallen in love with) leave Decakard’s apartment together. However, Deckard notices that someone has left an origami unicorn on the hallway floor.

This implies that Gaff (another detective, who also has a passion for origami), has been there earlier and has let Rachel survive. That part of the ending isn’t particularly ambiguous.

The ambiguity comes from what the unicorn itself actually means. There are at least three possible interpretations.

1)In the original 1982 version of the film, it’s mentioned that Rachel is a prototype replicant who has an indefinite lifespan (“ordinary” replicants only live for four years), so the unicorn could be a reference to the fact that she’s special/ unusual and that Gaff has made an exception because of this fact. However, any mention of this fact is omitted from both the 1992 and 2007 versions of the film.

2)The second, more popular, interpretation stems from the fact that Deckard dreams about a unicorn earlier in the film. This interpretation hinges on the fact that replicants have artificially-implanted memories. If Deckard was a replicant, Gaff would have known that Deckard’s “programming” included dreams about unicorns. As such, the unicorn could be a sign that Gaff knows that Deckard is a replicant.

3)Another interpretation is, of course, that Deckard could have told Gaff about his dream during one of their hover-car journeys together, and Gaff was just playing a practical joke on him by leaving a unicorn in the hallway.

So, is Rachel special? Is Deckard a replicant? Is Gaff a master prankster? Well, you’ll just have to watch the film and make up your own mind.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

(PS: Deckard isn’t a replicant! Seriously, just read Philip K.Dick’s original novel. It spells that fact out pretty clearly. Ooops! I should have probably added a spoiler warning about that too…)