When we were newlyweds, Dear Husband was often shocked at how frequently I could predict plot twists in movies. But unfortunately it is all too easy to do, if you know what signs to look for. If you don’t already have, and don’t want to have this self-spoiling plot twist radar, you may want to stop reading now.
Still with me? Good. First, it’s important that you don’t lose yourself in the story. Don’t get so caught up in the scenery and the romance and the fun of it all that you forget that you’re a person who is sitting on a couch, probably eating junk food, and you’re watching a product that some writer created while they were also most likely sitting on a couch, eating junk food. That is even more true in this pandemic era.
Don’t think about the movie. Think about the person who wrote the movie. Think like a writer who is in desperate need of a paycheck. That’s got to be stressful. And stress often makes one lazy. When writers get lazy, myself included, they become predictable.
Ask yourself what destination that writer is trying to reach. And what is the shortest, and thus most profitable route to that destination? That is the well-trodden path that most storytellers take. You could walk it in the dark, such is the groove that it has imposed upon the landscape of humanity.
For example, I genuinely believe that murder mysteries are the simplest things on earth to write. All you have to do is write them backwards. Start with how the evil deed was done. Then think of what clues would be necessary for someone to figure out who the culprit is. Then go back and scatter those clues, subtly and strategically, throughout the preceding chapters, along with just the right amount of red herrings to throw them off the trail. Maybe distract your readers with a bit of sexual tension for good measure, and throw in a lot of superfluous characters, but make them seem important. And there you have it. Murder mystery.
Also, keep in mind that there are 7 Classic Story Archetypes, and they have been around since before stories were written down. Shakespeare’s plays all fit into them, as do the books of the Bible, and the vast majority of all the foundational myths from every culture throughout the world. On the most fundamental level, there really is nothing new under the sun.
Armed with that knowledge, you only need rely on your pure instinct to take the final steps to arrive at a conclusion. If something seems off to you in a story, there’s most likely a good reason for it. Trust your inner voice.
Did a character bring up something that seemed random or unnecessary to you? Did you wonder why that thing even came up, since it didn’t seem to advance the plot in any way? Then rest assured, that thing is significant. If you’re watching a romance and they suddenly have a brief discussion about elephant’s toenails, then rest assured that elephant’s toenails will figure prominently in the subsequent twist.
Also, if a character seems to be demonstrating a particular quality over and over and over again, that’s significant as well. Is the writer really going out of the way to try to convince you that someone is lovable or heroic or evil or sneaky? (A good writer would trust the viewer to do more of the heavy lifting, but a lazy one will beat you over the head with the information.) Odds are good that the twist in the end will be that that person is exactly the opposite of their ham-handed portrayal. Someone who seems weak or foolish will turn out to be strong and wise. If the writer keeps having the main character do saintly things, you can bet your life that that character is actually a sinner.
I don’t think all wordsmiths are lazy. When one manages to surprise me, I have nothing but admiration for her, him, or them. When a story feels fresh and unexpected, I know that I have truly been given my money’s worth, and then some. I am always grateful for that gift.
But if you’re playing the odds, the information above will let you win more often than not, if knowing how a story is going to play out can be considered winning. Most of the time it’s kind of a disappointment. Sometimes it’s downright irritating. But on a positive note, those lazy writers sure do make me appreciate the good ones. Talent should never be taken for granted.
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