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January 9, 2012

Words, of course. Still not sure exactly how long it will take to bend the plot to its conclusion, but it is bending that way. I may have solved a plot crux in the shower this morning.

Handy things, showers.

I am musing again today on the difference, if there is one, between a plot twist and a reveal. I’m not sure it matters–to a great extent it’s a dancing angel question–but it still intrigues me. Today’s version: if a plot is a river, a twist is an obstruction that changes the course or otherwise modifies the flow. Any significant complication to the protagonist’s (or antagonist’s!) progress is a plot twist. A reveal is something more particular, I think. First off, it requires more setup. A low-level twist in particular can simply happen: a missed bus, a cancelled flight, a dead battery. Reveals only work when the reader is conscious of their approach on some level. They answer a question as they complicate the plot. To return to the river analogy: why is the current picking up around us? Because there’s a waterfall ahead. Why are my feet wet? Because the canoe is leaking. That sort of thing.

Failing to properly set up a reveal can do a couple of bad things. Answering a question that you didn’t ask, or that you asked 100 pages before, can make a reader go “why does this matter?” Conversely, squeezing the setup in too quickly can make it feel as if the whole issue is an afterthought or a gimmick (Oh, so Holden Caulfield is like that because he’s a werewolf? Now it all makes sense.)

I hope to God I didn’t just inspire someone.

Anyway, density of reveals, like any other kind of plot twist, is important too. Too many in short succession and you’re subject to what I call the “stumbling down the staircase” sensation (since these usually come starting around the dramatic climax and continue through the falling action). Mediocre thrillers and mysteries do this, substituting slapping the reader around with quick, convoluted, contradictory reveals, one after the other. Like a character, it takes a little time for a reader to get attached to how the plot is going. Jerking them around too quickly runs the risk of yanking them out of it entirely.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2012 11:39 am

    You and your novel make me eager to attend group, if nothing else.

    • January 10, 2012 9:18 am

      I do not mean to say there are no other reasons for me to attend group. It’s just if your writing were the only reason, I would show up.

  2. January 9, 2012 12:56 pm

    I decline to reveal whether I may or may not be inspired. Regardless, I’d be 78 years old before any Holden Caufield fanfiction could be published. (1951+95=2047) I guess I could write it now…and wait until then to submit it to markets. *If* I were so inspired.

    There’s a chance copyright law could change between now and then. That would be a twist.

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