Twists untangled

I need to pay special attention to the following because I’m always coming up with twists and building movie ideas around them. This is part of the presentation given on Monday by Colin of The London Script Consultancy at the Soho Screenwriters writers group.

Twists are based on secrets. A character discovers that something has been hidden from them. There are four things you need to decide when including a twist in a story:

A. The reason the secret is in the story.
B. Which character is is keeping the secret.
C. The character the secret is being kept from.
D. The point at which the secret is revealed

Usually, the protagonist’s realisation comes too late. The twist should be a carefully constructed story based on the expectations of the protagonist. The audience need to very quickly to understand the twist and understand why the character didn’t have their revelation until that moment. To make sure the film works for those who watch a second time, write the ‘off-screen’ scenes that show the antagonist’s scheme in motion.

If your twist happens at the mid-point, then the secret keeper is usually a confidante of the hero who is revealed to be thwarting the goal (Cypher in The Matrix). If your twist is at the end of act 2, then the secret keeper is the antagonist (Cohaagen in Total Recall).

You also need to make sure the audience doesn’t feel stupid for not discovering the secret. The clues should make sense, they must be remembered to make sense. Foreshadow the twist (which makes some ‘smart’ people feel good if they get the message early) – that makes for satisfying repeat viewings.

A good twist needs to be visceral: associate it with emotions.

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