I have to admit, I love screenwriting craft books. There’s a lot of good stuff in these how-to books for aspiring storytellers—film or fiction. In his book, Your Screenplay Sucks!, William M. Akers (a shout out to Bill, who teaches film at Vanderbilt University) notes the difference between a change in direction for a scene and a reversal.
Change in scene direction is a plot development and moves the story forward. Reversal is a surprise….That’s when you set the audience up to think one thing will happen, and then, something else happens and you surprise them. It’s one of the main foundations of storytelling.
|Sets the stage, who it is|
The scene is about what? It will lead to conflict
|Difference of opinion, argument, friction|
|Information needed to move plot forward|
|Both in narrative, action, and dialogue. A revalation|
|Someone wins the agrument or there is an outside force|
|What's the next scene about|
For example, Little Red Riding Hood goes to Granny’s house after talking to the wolf in the forest; she notices that Granny’s ears have gotten so big. She says, “What big eyes you have!” She notes that Granny has big teeth too. Right away, readers assume that the Wolf has gotten to Granny and is ready to eat Little Red Riding Hood for dinner. That is, until Little Red karate chops the Wolf in the throat, calls to her Granny who’s hiding in the closet and just happens to be an undercover cop and they arrest the Wolf on the spot as a pedophile and Granny impersonator. That’s a reversal. And that’s the basis for good writing.
Now, I’m not saying do a reversal in every single scene…but give it a try at least once or twice in the middle of your novel. Suddenly, things don’t seem so predicable. Readers don’t know what to expect…and they can’t stop reading until they find out.
Any reversal, of course, must be grounded in some assumptions and move the story into a new place. It just may not be in a straight line to the conclusion. A reversal allows the writer to take a sharp right (or left) turn. If conflict keeps the reader reading, then a well-placed reversal makes the writing fresh and dynamic.
So, turn your story with a reversal. Right or left, it will keep readers turning too—in a good way.
Check in tomorrow. We'll take a look at endings, and what leads to a perfect one. On Friday, I'll give you a formula for story pacing, and some tips for making sure your narrative stays on track. Until then...