Theory of Nothing? A Review of The Theory of Everything
January 7, 2015
Plot vs. Story
July 29, 2014
Show, Don't Tell - Goal Setting Edition
June 27, 2018
Screenwriting Tips: Avoid Gimmicks
I'm not against twists, per se, but I do agree with the idea that all great endings must be unexpected, yet feel inevitable. My issue is with twists that are really gimmicks. Think Signs, The Village, or something other than M. Night Shyamalan, like The Forgotten, or Saw. The twist feels forced, unnecessary. In Shyamalan's defense, he is a master at building suspense in a scene, and the twist in Unbreakable works. The first time. Fact is, these movies are playing only for the pay off. They just don't hold up well to multiple viewings. They also pose a marketing problem. Producers hate marketing problems.
The problem with movies with a twist is that the twist has to be kept a secret... Imagine trying to sell a movie where the only way the movie can succeed is to keep the audience from revealing the twist while simultaneously passionately telling all their friends, "Trust me. See this movie that I can't tell you about."
Unless you are a writer of note, you can't very well tell a producer, or an agent, or manager to trust you. They want to know the story before they pay a reader to read it. Your concept needs to stand on its own, without relying on a gimmick. It's a big mountain to climb.
Yes, it worked for the Sixth Sense.
Consider the logline for the Sixth Sense, without the twist: "A boy who can communicate with dead people seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist." I'm not sure how motivated an audience will be to see this movie, if they don't know about the twist. However, the logline with the twist sounds much more interesting, but the movie loses the impact of the twist, "A boy who can communicate with dead people seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist... who doesn't realize that he's also dead."
Now imagine your audience expects a plot twist. Consider how well the twists worked for M. Night's other movies. (Unbreakable is perhaps his only other successful twist.) The problem is that the audiences are thinking throughout the movie that there's a twist coming. Then when it comes, they have to process whether it was a satisfying twist. etc. etc. etc. Wouldn't you rather them get lost in the story?
In other words, dear writer, give your story a chance -- avoid gimmick twists. Set up every payoff, and payoff every set up. If you keep the twists in the first act, hiding nothing from potential buyers of your script, you can proudly scream the uniqueness of your story from the mountaintop.