This week's Answer:
Good question, Simon.
I want everyone to listen to what Simon says. (Sorry; couldn’t help myself.)
Ah, yes, the proverbial twist.
The word, “twist,” in terms of story has been
bandied about quite a bit lately.
It does seem to be the current film buzz word, the
recent key to Script City, the magical word that opens the
gates of the Hey, You Got A Chance To Have Your Screenplay
Read By The Great And All-Powerful Wizard Of Whatever
the first thing that comes to mind when I think of
“twist” is what I’d like to do to the neck of my
agent for not getting me more than a dollar for my last
not putting down the Dollar Option in the least.
Instead of thinking of it as a conniving way to
gain control of a screenwriter’s
blood-sweat-and-tears-sacrificed script, think of it as a
great way to become a millionaire screenwriter.
All you have to do is write a million screenplays.)
The second thought that comes to mind when I think
of “twist” is those really tasty special kind of
doughnuts that don’t have holes in them – which makes
me wonder if it’s really proper to call them
“doughnuts” because I think, to be an official
doughnut, it has to have a hole in its center
(which, for some reason, again reminds me of my agent).
It used to be called “plot twist,” but you know
how everybody likes to shave off words and even syllables
these days. (I
mean, look at the copspeak in the television shows. Maybe Steven Bochco started running out of paper or printer
cartridges because, instead of “perpetrator,” we went
to “perp.” The
first time I heard the word, I thought the cop said “perv,”
which is used as a short rendition for “pervert.”
So, if a culprit (culp?) were arrested for
illegally looking and climbing through somebody’s
window, would they be a peeping perv or a peeping perp?
(or a perving peep?) Do you see the immense dilemma that could be facing our
television law officers today?
I guess, since the perpetrators became “perps,”
fair play called for the victims to become “vics.”
But the problem with that for me was that it took
several Law And Orders and NYPD’s to figure out that
every person killed wasn’t named “Vick.”
I was starting to think there was a Vick serial
killer loose in Television Land.)
So, now it’s “twist,” which is
simply a way to describe a moment (a beat) in a story that
is unexpected and usually drives the story in a different
frequently occurs at the time when everyone in the movie
theatre gasps (not to be confused with the first time they
realize that, instead of the film starting at the time
when it was announced to start, they are actually sitting
through five or six movie screen-sized commercials that
they’ve paid for).
A well-written twist (or twists.
Screenplays can have more than one) you don’t see
coming and it completely throws you and, and this
is essential, entertains you.
You like where the author takes you.
You love the surprise, which you know deep within
you enhances the story, expands and deepens it, and, most
importantly, often lengthens it, thereby giving you more
movie for your buck (or nine bucks).
The trouble is that twists are so
prominent now in films (blame that on O’ Henry for
showing us their value -- and I’m not talking about the
candy bar), audiences have their “twist radar” on all
the time, and what was once a story shift that shocked one
and all (often it is a discovery, a revelation of
something that was previously hidden, i.e., the big
surprise in Hitchcock’s Psycho, a lovely
pre-shower film), these days it would be a
saw-it-coming-since-the-opening moment for savvy viewers.
(If Psycho were shown for the first time
now, you’d have audiences jeering at the beginning of
the film, “Everybody knows Bates is the Mother.” And
many wiseacres would shout at Janet Leigh’s image,
“Take a bath; take a bath!”).
Being that, these days, everybody’s on the alert
for twists (which are not easy to camouflage or
incorporate into a screenplay in order to have them be
effective ones), I believe the next generation of
well-crafted scripts will change and employ a new story
element called the “nontwist.” (“Wow, what a film
Oscar material! A
totally direct and superficial story without one twist to
mar its predictable outcome!
give it an untwisted thumbs up!”).