Thursday, January 6, 2011

On plot twists.

I pondered today.

I sat pondering for about forty-five minutes over the value of plot twist in genre fiction.

It's a necessary thing. You don't pick up a book if you know exactly what's going to happen. But how do we determine what a good plot twist is?

Consider Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. Great twist, right? I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't read it, but it kept us surprised without being ridiculous. Now consider M. Night Whatshisname's Lady in the Water. Okay. So. There's a secret world in your swimming pool and people come out, and if they choose you, you're marked for a future of greatness...what?

While the former is extremely deliberated down to each meticulous detail, the latter sounds like it was conceived on the fly.

Readers of bizarro fiction will know all about these nonsensical premises. Aficionados will tear me apart for this post. Well, I say fire away. One can insist to no end about how "anything is art", but in the end, painting a hammer red and gluing it onto a block of wood hardly constitutes art. You can give it all the meaning you want in retrospect, but show me the effort, the deliberation, that went into it, and maybe then I'll change my mind.

There's obviously a difference between taking a phenomenon, such as irony or a character's mental instability, and applying it in a creative and unexpected way, and conjuring up deus-ex-machina out the wazoo for the sake of being different. My question was, how can you tell the difference? Where do you draw the line between a good plot twist and a decadent love of the bizarre?

So I asked my psychology teacher's opinion, and after some brainstorming, here's the general summary of our conclusion:

You have bizarre art. Within that subdivision, there's good bizarre and bad bizarre. In order for a plot twist to be good and not just ridiculous, it needs to be relevant--advance the plot, convey a meaning, supplement the work. If it does that, congrats, artist, you're on your way to mastery. If the bizarre element IS the entirety of the work's substance--nothing below the surface--well then.

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