Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Revenge is a Dish I Totally Saw Coming

Thanks to Deb for having me as part of her blog hop on “I Totally Saw That Coming!” When she invited me, she mentioned that last year, after the big “Revenge” reveal that David Clark was still alive, I posted on Facebook that I had predicted this plot twist since the show debuted. Now maybe that’s because this twist was obvious or maybe it’s because I have ESP and I’m wasting it by predicting TV plots rather than buying lottery tickets. In any case, if you’re a writer and you totally saw that coming, it doesn’t necessarily mean the story telling’s bad. Maybe it just means you’re thinking like a writer.

Revenge debuted in 2011 as the story of Amanda Clark, returning to the Hamptons as Emily Thorne, with the sole goal of getting revenge on everyone who hurt her father, who was framed for terrorism, tried and convicted, and then killed in a jail fight. Now, when I lay out the story that way, it becomes pretty obvious that one of two things was going to happen: Either Amanda/Emily was going to find out that David was actually guilty as sin, or David was really alive. Since the former plot point was kind of depressing and a dead-end, the second one was obvious. Having David alive turns the entire story on its head. And as writers, we need to do those handstands in every story.

Think about it: Almost every story has the “all hope is lost” moment that turns things in a completely different direction. Where the protagonist reaches the right door, only to find it locked. Where everything that has gone on before seems for naught. While Revenge’s plot twist doesn’t fulfill those criteria exactly – for Amanda/Emily, it’s more a good thing than a bad thing – it does make everything the protagonist did for the first several seasons seem meaningless.

This is a plot point that’s built into the very fabric of your plot, and you should be able to identify it once you come up with your initial concept. Here are some examples:

Saving Private Ryan: The team finally finds Ryan, but he doesn’t want to leave his platoon.

The Wizard of Oz: The group finally meets the Wizard, only to be told to go get the witch’s broomstick.

Star Wars: The group travels to Alderaan, only to find Alderaan isn’t there anymore. (Granted, this happens a little earlier than the third act.)

The Ring: Rachel frees Samara’s corpse from the well, only to be told that she’d made the girl more powerful.
Titanic: Rose and Jack escape the sinking ship, only to be ignored by the life boats.

If you’re a Revenge fan, were you surprised when David showed up, or did you know it all along? As writers, we should be able to predict these plot points while keeping our own as surprising as possible. Just another one of those tasks that keep us typing away at our keyboards!

Please check out Kerrie Olzak’s thoughts on this subject on Thursday!

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