Deliver a sting in your tale
This essay is an updated and extended version of a piece first published on this blog back in 2014. And, boy, was it popular!
A twist is a moment of revelation within a story that throws into question all that’s gone before it. A twist is essentially a specific type of action or ‘beat’. Aristotle called it the ‘peripeteia’ (variously translated as ‘reversal’ or ‘sudden change’), referring both to the sudden downturn in the protagonist’s fortunes that occurs in tragedy (such as Oedipus’ realisation that he’s married his mum) and the sudden change for the good that occurs in comedy (such as the lovesick Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night realising that his favourite page-boy is actually a girl).
Whether for good or ill, the peripeteia means an abrupt reversal in the protagonist's circumstances. Aristotle pointed out that the reversal occurs in conjunction with ‘anagnorisis’ (variously translated as ‘discovery’ or ‘recognition’), the moment at which the protagonist uncovers a hitherto unknown piece of information. In other words, it’s that bit in the movie when the main character realises they’ve just murdered their dad, married their mum, or were a ghost the whole time. This is also the point at which the character might fall to their knees yelling, ‘Nooooooooo!’ And it’ll probably be raining...
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