If you’re thinking I’ve forgotten about The Challenge, I haven’t. I just continue to struggle with Act Two of Psycho Ex. You know, the easy script. And it’s weird because although Act Two is always the hardest part, the problems I’m having this time are problems I’ve never had before.
Here’s the deal: The script has a twist ending. Or maybe it’s a twist “middle.” I’m not exactly sure. That’s the problem.
I know my story. I know it well. I’m just not so sure about the plot. Big difference. The story is the chronological timeline of events. The story is what happens (In The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis dies in the first scene and lives the rest of the movie as a ghost). But the plot is the timeline in which information is revealed to the reader/viewer. The plot is how the story is told (Neither we nor Bruce know he is a ghost until the very end). Story vs. plot.
Psycho Ex has a twist. The big problem I am dealing with now is the revealing of this twist and the issue of surprise vs. suspense. Surprise is what happens when the reader/viewer gets information at the same time as the characters, as in The Sixth Sense – we find out that Bruce is a ghost at the same time that Bruce does, and we are just as surprised as Bruce is. We don’t suspect this is coming, so when it comes we are so surprised we jump out of our seats. Suspense is different. Suspense is what happens when the reader/viewer gets information before the characters do, and then we squirm in our seats or yell at the screen as we wait for the characters to learn the truth the hard way (“Don’t go downstairs! The killer is in the house!”). The only person who knows all the information all of the time is the writer.
Which is me. But halfway through Act Two, I can’t figure out if Psycho Ex is supposed to make you jump out of your seat or make you squirm in it.
When I originally got the idea for the script and started laying it out, I didn’t doubt for a second that it had a surprise twist ending. I had a love triangle – one man and two women, one of them pregnant. After chasing the women, the man finally catches up to them – and then does something that turns the whole movie upside-down. Everyone jumps out of their seats, the climactic twist plays out, and we Fade Out while people are still shocked.
But then it occurred to me – what if, at the midpoint, I reveal the guy’s plan to the audience, but not to the women? This way I still get the surprise and the movie turning upside-down, just earlier. And I also get much more – the chase will still happen, but it will suddenly be more charged instead of just standard action. You will know the secret but they won’t. Everything the women do would be in preparation for the WRONG climax, so you’ll squirm and yell “Don’t do it! You’re doing the wrong thing!” We get surprise and suspense. I don’t want this to get too Lifetime-y, but suspense with a pregnant woman in danger – man, that’s some powerful territory with a huge built-in squirm factor. That could propel the script into a whole different league. Surprise alone would never get us this – you can milk surprise for half a page, but you can get reams from suspense. Very pleased with myself, I decided I should definitely go with the suspense plan. The twist “middle.”
Unless that doesn’t work. Because usually – always? – it doesn’t work. The twist has to be the climax, it has to be a last-minute surprise. Doesn’t it? I mean, Psycho, No Way Out, every episode of The Twilight Zone… you build to a climax, you reveal a huge twist, these two are actually the same thing, and you Fade Out. Because if a “plot twist” overshadows your climax, you’re in trouble, right? After the twist, you don’t have anywhere else to go. That’s why they call it a “twist ending.” Right? I mean, what if The Sixth Sense had revealed that Bruce was a ghost halfway through the movie? What if The Usual Suspects had revealed the Big Reveal to the audience halfway through?
Then they would have been The Crying Game.
They would have become completely different movies. I’ve got big problems.
I like the suspense option, I instinctively want to go there. I’m just not sure if the climax would still be the climax, or what the new climax would be, or if the story would really work anymore. The idea was engineered and constructed with the twist ending climax. But maybe it doesn’t have a “twist ending,” maybe it actually has a killer “plot twist.” But then… that means the old climax isn’t the climax anymore, just the middle. And if the old climax isn’t the climax anymore, then what is?
Hey – remember before, at the very beginning, when I said “I know my story”?… Turns out I was really lying.
See? Twist ending.