On Fridays I update you on my writing and discuss anything interesting I’m going through in telling my next story. This week’s update is, of course, about Rebel Yell, since that still consumes most of my time. (If you haven’t yet, you can pre-order it here).
A lot of writers (and, for that matter, readers) place a lot of emphasis on the plot twist. And why not? Some of the greatest moments in storytelling history are epic plot twists. And I’m not just talking about The Sixth Sense. How about, “I am your father?” The half-buried Statue of Liberty? “Soylent Green is people?”
But you can find some equally effective storytelling where the audience knows exactly what’s coming. Take The Fault in Our Stars, for instance. (SPOILER ALERT) From about the book’s midway point, any reader with half a brain knows that Gus’ cancer has returned. But he keeps it from Hazel, and she doesn’t realize until near the end of the Amsterdam trip. By informing the reader before the main character has realized what’s going on, John Green tinges every moment that follows with a sense of crushing sadness and desperation. You want Hazel to clue in to what’s going on, and your heart drops another notch every time she doesn’t.
This kind of plot twist is like the “double jump moment” in a horror films. You can make the audience jump almost any time you want to. Some high violins, a moment of silence, and then a monster leaping from the darkness. But what about the double-jump? What about leading the audience along, letting them know well in advance that you’re going to try to scare them, letting them think they’re outsmarting the filmmaker…and then not? Then, a few seconds after the beat has passed, when the audience thinks they’re safe—THEN you hit them.
So for the record, for posterity and as an announcement well before the book actually releases: I WANT my readers to realize what’s going to happen in Rebel Yell at the end of act two. I want them to know what’s going to happen to Steve. I want them to realize it well in advance, and be practically yelling at him for not seeing it coming. Because that’s who Steve is: he’s the guy who’s so desperate from approval from those he idolizes that he lets himself miss all the warning signs. And when the axe falls, only then can he look back at what’s happened and say, “Oh my God, how could I not have seen this? I’m such a fool.”
This will tell the reader a lot about Steve. Without having to tell them what’s going on in his mind, by simply allowing the reader to see what’s coming and all the ways Steve deceives himself to ignore it, I want to teach them the kind of naive, quixotic person that Steve is.
What I don’t want the reader to know is what he does in response to the plot twist. That, my friends, is the book’s double-jump moment.
When the book comes out, I hope you’ll enjoy it, and I hope you’ll see what’s coming—at least, until I hit you with the surprise at the end.