Wednesday, February 4, 2015

To the Making of Many Books, There is no End

One of the most effective and unexpected twists, I think, in any writing out there was Ned Stark's death in Game of Thrones. The gravity of the moment, the hero trajectory he was on, and then, in the space of a few pages, all of that vanished and you're left to read frantically on, to see how the GoT universe stitches up the wound.

Yeah, yeah, we know.
Only, as the series progressed, and the bodies piled up, the weight of the twist couldn't be replicated. Instead, with the introduction of each new character, one yawns and waits for them to die. A smart, clever and poignant plot twist is reduced to a low impact moment.

This, I think, is to be expected. Stories have been told, in a variety of mediums for a long ass time (that's the technical term). Many of those stories rely on a certain hook to get you to stick around- frequently in the form of an unexpected twist. Hell, M Night Shyamalan made a whole career out of doing it, and not even doing it well. But he's an excellent case in point- you only get one shot at the big reveal. No one is surprised at a character being dead all along OMG, a la The Sixth Sense.

And so, new works try to twist the twist- outsmart the audience, to where it becomes a chess match. They expect this, so I will do this, but they expect that, so I do something else.

This really stood out to me recently, watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which, incidentally, if you haven't seen it, rectify that now. It's most excellent. In any case, as the (quite complicated) plot drew to its conclusion, I found myself hoping there wasn't a twist. I had this kind of sinking feeling that (SPOILER ALERT) Oldman's character was somehow the bad guy all along. Just let the bad guy be the bad guy, I thought. I was relieved to find that that's what happened. The plot stood up well enough that it didn't have to out-clever itself (END OF SPOILER ALERT).

Look at the recent GrimDark discussion on this space- it's the same evolution, just with GRIT. Each iteration has to be dirtiest, more gruesome than the last because it's already been done before. And so, instead of standing out, it all just kind of blends together, into a grey amalgamation of one-upsmanship.

I wish I had a super great conclusion, but I don't. Write better stories and movies, maybe. But really an observation of what I see, particularly from the SFF world. A lot of focus on individual devices and twists, and less focus on telling good stories.


  Dean is the author of 3024AD and the ongoing SciFi Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, The Venturess. He is an engineer, and geek about many things. He lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. You can listen to him ramble on Twitter and muse on his blog.