Thursday, September 13, 2012

Twists in Stories

If you've been reading this blog at all, you know I'm a huge Joss Whedon fan.  There's pretty much nothing I think that man can't do.  

I was most recently thrilled by his joint effort with Drew Goddard, CABIN IN THE WOODS.  It was a fantastic meta movie about horror films.  If you haven't seen it, I won't spoil it for you, but you should definitely see it.  

Anyway, I've been excited about buying it on BluRay when I realized that I actually wasn't excited to see it again.  Not because it wasn't a great movie, but because I was afraid it wouldn't stand up to a second reading.  That's because my enjoyment of the movie was predicated on not knowing the twist.  Sure, I guessed at it about ten minutes into the film, but I was still thrilled to watch it play out.  

That started me thinking about other movies that are dependent on twists:  The Sixth Sense (or anything by M. Night Shaymalan), Lucky Number Slevin, The Matrix.  There are books that are this way too.  The Hunger Games is one, Ender's Game is another.  

I'm dubious of stories that are based on this twist, not because they're not great, but because they may not hold up to multiple readings.  Once you know that Bruce Willis is dead in the Sixth Sense, why bother watching the movie again?

I'm not saying that books can't have huge twists and still be enjoyable once that twist is known.  Jellicoe Road is one book that's got a great mystery at its core, but holds up exceedingly well to multiple readings.  But if the twist is all that's holding the story together, once that twist is known, the story falls apart...and that's not a good thing.

I'll probably still buy Cabin in the Woods, but it'll never be as good as seeing it the first time.


  1. Is anything ever as good as the first time? I love a good twist, as long as it's not too much red herring or O'Henry ending, but I do think they're always best when you see them coming, but not from very far away.

    1. See, I have to disagree. I think some movies and books that have twists that are integral to the story but aren't the foundation can be even better on multiple readings/viewings. Take JELLICOE ROAD for example. That book has a mystery to it that is stunning, but reading it a second and third time, now knowing the answer to the mystery, makes the book even better because there are layers and layers to examine.

      However, stories that are built on their twist (Sixth Sense, I'm looking at you) tend to be fairly pedestrian movies without them, and rarely hold up to multiple viewings.

      So, yeah, I think there's a fine line between having a twist in your story and building your story on the twist.


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