What You Can Learn From Plot Twists

I am going to be fair here. I’ll be talking about Star Wars some more. Much of it involves the so-called “Sequels.”

So, there will be spoilers. Maybe I should’ve said this at the beginning of my last post. But whatever. I didn’t. So, here we are.

Going along with the theme of beginnings here at the beginning of the month, the beginning of the year, and the beginning of the decade, I’m talking today about something writers need to consider when beginning a story – plot twists.

With good storytelling, audiences should usually (unless they’re the type to guess the whole way through or are with those types of people who like to guess the whole way through) not know what’s going to happen at the end.

Making sure audiences don’t know what’s going to happen has never been illegal. In fact, it has been one of the goals of most storytellers for all time.

The longer people don’t know the end of the story, the longer the people have to stick around to find out. That is, if you’ve got story enough to make them want to do that.

Audiences, readers, viewers… they don’t need all the details all in one shot. In fact, they’re kind of turned off by that. Ever see a movie trailer that gives you the whole story in two minutes? Very few people enjoy seeing those kinds of trailers.

People like to read and watch and discover stories and characters. They like to find things. They like to find themselves in stories. That’s one of the purposes of story. That’s kinda the whole point of story. Readers and viewers want to go on an emotional rollercoaster for the sake of the rollercoaster.

A story that tells itself using almost nothing but plot twists is just plain lazy and stupid.

I have something to say about Luke Skywalker.

You know what kept us on edge about him and the story? Like in The Return of the Jedi?

We weren’t sure what his character was going to do. We weren’t sure what he was going to do as a character. We weren’t sure what he was going to do with the decision and conflict laid before him. And there was great turmoil and conflict going on inside of him and we wanted to know what decision he was going to make because we want to see him make the good decision, we want to be inspired to make the good decision when it comes time in our life to make the good decisions.

Luke’s decision and the fact that he has make it… that is what drove the plot; not weird things just happening because the storytellers needed the story or plot to go a certain way. That’s lazy storytelling.

There’s no heart, no gut wrenching decision-making on the storytellers’ part, and it’s just happening because the storytellers want to confuse the Pepsi out of their audiences so they can get their money.

“Oh! The ship blew up! So, now the characters have to do this or now think this thing. Oh, the ship didn’t really blow up! Oh! The character didn’t really die! And so none of what we just watched or experienced didn’t really matter other than for the purpose of making us think that something was true just to make the story last longer so that it looks like you made a big, long movie that actually had weight and worth to it!”

Making the only thing that matters the fact that the audience thinks something is true only for the sake of making the story longer is super, super, lazy, bad storytelling.

So, how about the good storytelling?

You can have plot twists, yes. Those are not outlawed. People don’t hate plot twists. Well, I’m sure there are some people…

But plot twists are merely a tool. They should not be the driving force or the engine of any story.

When you change the reality of what truly is going on in a story so much by using plot twists that don’t mean anything at the end of the day but you want to mean something for a short while but then that something ends up being a false something because the plot twist was really just a ruse to get the audience to believe something so that they could be “emotionally” hooked until the next plot twist and the next one and the next one until the end of the story eventually comes, who’s to say the story actually ever ended and the whole movie/story you saw/read was a plot twist in and of itself with another sequel on the way for you to spend your money on?

Stories have certain realities. And when the trustworthy rules of stories’ realities go out the window, I’m less and less and less likely to want to continue reading, watching, or experiencing that story.

Star Wars had six movies with consistency all throughout. Everything but lightsabers, the existence of the Force, and a few actors, actresses, and planet names from the childhoods of the people who (much of them) very much dislike the “Sequels” are thrown out the window in the “Sequels.”

(And even then, the bad guy turns into a good guy by throwing his lightsaber into some ocean, so even lightsabers kinda get thrown out [when he should probably know he’s going to need it in his new path even if it’s the wrong color {but after seeing everything else in the “Sequels” trilogy, it’s not really surprising… it just kinda happens].)

When a character dies pretty definitively but somehow survives so that the story can end a certain way with them alive or with them dying [supposedly], who’s to say that when the last time the storyteller shows that character dying was actually the last time they died? If no one ever really dies, then what in the world is the point of life?

Human life is beautiful because it ends.

Keep bringing it back after you keep on making people think that it’s over and the life shortly becomes less and less and less and less meaningful.

All that to say, have your stories be driven by the decisions your characters face.

There must be questions to be answered, decisions to be made, and conclusions to come to at the end of your story. That’s where the meaning is. the meaning is not in how well you crafted the story. Some people might enjoy that, but if it’s the focus for a significant amount of your writing then what story do you think you have that’s worth telling if all you want to do is show off your structuring capabilities (if, indeed, you have them)?

There must be meaning.

And when you lose the “meaningful” factor in a story, you’ve broadsided yourself on the most titanic iceberg there ever has been in the world of storytelling.