The last post briefly mentioned the idea that twists in the plot create unpredictability in the story. And a certain amount of unpredictability creates interest. And that interest is one element that can take a story from passable to incredible.
For an example in predictability, let’s take one of the stories mentioned in the last post: Avatar.
Honestly, the story was predictable. If you didn’t think so as you admired the incredible graphics through your Ray Ban-styled 3D glasses, hear me out.
It starts off very much like Disney’s version of Pocahontas. Settlers show up to colonize and gather natural resources but aren’t exactly friends with the natives. Jake Sully works with a scientific team to make contact with the natives and ends up being accepted into the tribe. Then things become reminiscent of FernGully–a 90’s cartoon that I likely enjoyed because it involved fairies. Jake fights to defend and protect the native Na’vi from the military and corporation he was friends with. However, some of his past actions force the Na’vi to question him, and he regains their trust by riding a Toruk–a creature only a handful of the Na’vi have ever managed to tame. They fight against the military, he duels the antagonist general, and then he becomes one of the Na’vi permanently. Everyone is happy… except for the evil corporation and military. The end.
There aren’t many twists. From past experience with Pocahontas, FernGully, and other similar stories, we know there will be a Romeo and Juliet-type of situation. We also know that there will be aggression between the two factions, and the couple must fight to stay together and preserve what is right and good in the process. So when Jake falls in love with Neytiri and sticks with the Na’vi when they come under attack, there is no surprise.
Rising action calls for some tension between the characters, so when tension rises between Jake and the future clan leader or between Jake and Neytiri or between Jake and the Na’vi on the whole, it isn’t much of a twist. It’s expected.
The flying Toruk isn’t much of a surprise either. Often, important details are mentioned, and the fact that so few people… I mean, aliens… have ever tamed one means that one will be making an appearance and it will be tamed just in the nick of time most likely by the protagonist.
Perhaps one of the worst blows was the lack depth to the characters. Nearly all of them fell into very stereotypical roles and had little substance beyond their surface appearance. There was the beautiful native princess, the wary old chief, the greedy CEO, the callous general. And that’s all they are.
Twists don’t have to be as drastic as atomic bombs. What if the general turned out not to be the antagonist for once? Instead of him and the CEO being so intentionally evil, what if they really thought they were doing what was right for humanity? What if the Na’vi were the antagonists instead? What if the scientists were the antagonists? Imagine what a twist it would be if the general and CEO appeared to be the villains but then it becomes apparent that it’s the scientists who have been manipulating the situation the entire time. It would completely change the story. And it wouldn’t be so obvious.
Unfortunately, Avatar is finished and unless there’s a remake in twenty years, there’s no changing the amount of predictability. Fortunately, though, not all stories fall into that trap…