Thank God for Plot Twists
“Every story ever told can be broken down into three parts. The beginning. The middle. And the plot twist.”-R.L. Stine
Thankful for plot twists? It may sound strange, but hear me out.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? What keeps your life exciting? When things seem hopeless, what keeps you trudging through life's muddy waters?
My answer: plot twists.
We all go through life hoping for the next big plot twist. Will we meet the love of our life? Will we get that dream job we've been hoping for? Maybe this is the million dollar scratch off, maybe this time I'll win.
Plot twists give us the means to dream and keep our lives interesting. Without them, life would just be boring and predictable.
Honestly I struggled with this challenge more than any other Vocal contest so far. I thought, of course I'm thankful for family, friends, having a roof over my head, and having food in my belly. But I wanted to come at the challenge with a unique take.
I waited until the last minute and read through all the entries and they all said something along the same lines. People are generally thankful for the same things, but then it hit me! That miraculous health recovery, the unexpected baby, the friend that saved your life, they all had one thing in common.
They're all plot twists.
Totally Thankful for Twists
That which shall not be named has confined me to my house for almost nine months now. To say I’m stir crazy would be an understatement. And now I’m beginning to actually go mad.
Each day I feel more like James Stewart in Rear Window. Secretly watching the coming and goings of my quiet neighborhood from the safety of my front porch. I pretend it’s research for the mystery crime novel I’m working on, but really I’m just nosy.
One neighbor paces up and down the street barefoot at odd hours of the night, another is always in her front yard watering and tending to her plants, and then there’s the old man across the street with a cockatoo named Gemini that whistles the Addams Family theme song all day, adding a creepy atmosphere to the often silent neighborhood.
What I'm getting at here, is suspense. Not knowing what will happen next, making predictions, piecing together connections. Who doesn’t love a good mystery?
I've been obsessing over stories with twists and turns, inspiration for the novel I'm writing about a nun who has to investigate the disappearance of her little sister. So without further ado, here are five of the most mind-bending, shocking, unpredictable plot twists I've come across.
Spoiler Alert: If you want to check out the book, movie etc. before reading this article, the title will be bolded, and spoilers will follow in the text.
1. "Vertigo" by Alfred Hitchcock
I've already mentioned Hitchcock's suspenseful thriller "Rear Window", Hitchcock truly is a master of deception, so it makes sense I would put him first.
I debated about which movie to use, honestly he's one of my favorite directors, and this whole list could have easily been movies by him, all with incredible twists, but I'm going to restrain myself to just one. My favorite film by him, "Vertigo", released in 1958.
Scottie, is a retired cop who suffers from vertigo. It impairs his judgement when he's up on high places. He's hired by a friend, Galvin, as a private investigator. His job is to watch over Galvin's wife Madeline, who has been acting very strange. As Scottie watches Madeline's daily routine, he finds that she seems supernaturally linked to a woman name Carlotta Valdes that committed suicide decades ago. Galvin reveals to Scottie that Carlotta is her great-great-grandmother, and he fears that she is possessed.
Wouldn't you know it, Scottie and Madeline fall in love, and he is hell bent on saving her from whatever paranormal curse clouds her mind. Unfortunately, when the time comes he's unable to help her. Madeline climbs to the top of a tower, and jumps off, falling to her death. The same way Carlotta died many years ago. Scottie reaches the tower before she jumps, but his vertigo causes him to faint. He wakes up, and is now the prime suspect in her death. But is she really dead?
The death is declared a suicide, Scottie is not faulted, but becomes clinically depressed. After several months he's released from a mental institution, but he can't stop thinking about Madeline. He frequents her old haunts, hoping to catch a glimpse of her, until one day, he does.
Well he thinks it's her, but really it's Judy Barton from Kansas, who bears a striking resemblence to the presumed dead Madeline. Judy and Scottie quickly become romantically involved, but Judy is scared of him. Scottie wants to turn her into a replica of Madeline, he makes her dye her hair blonde and dresses her in Madeline's clothes.
First Twist: Judy and Madeline are the same person. Judy was hired by Galvin to pretend to be his wife, in a wildly convoluted plot to kill her. Galvin threw his real wife off the bell tower, knowing how Scottie would react because of his vertigo. This allowed Judy and Galvin to escape without being seen.
Second Twist: Scottie find out they are the same person because Judy held onto a necklace she wore when she was pretending to be Madeline. To get revenge, he forces her back up the bell tower, explaining he needed to relive the traumatic event to move on. There he forces Judy to explain the truth. She pleads for forgiveness, saying now they can start a real life together.
Third Twist: A shadowy figure emerges from a trapdoor in the bell tower, this startles Judy, and she falls to her death. It was just a nun coming to ring the mission bells.
Talk about a tragic case of false identity!
2. "The Mariner's Revenge" by The Decemberists
The Decemberists 2005 album, "Picaresque" was a huge success, but by far the most notable song on that album is "The Mariner's Revenge Song" This nautical ballad tells a riveting story of revenge, set to the tune of a folky mandolin and a stand-up bass that builds the tension of the story musically.
The story begins as the main character is trapped inside the belly of a whale with another man. They know each other, but the other person doesn't know how... yet.
We are two mariners, our ships' sole survivors/ In this belly of a whale / Its ribs our ceiling beams, its guts our carpeting/ I guess we have some time to kill/ You may not remember me, I was a child of three /And you, a lad of eighteen/ But I remember you, and I will relate to you/ How our histories interweave
The narrator knows the unnamed man, because he caused his mother's death. When he was a child, his widowed mother dated a younger man with a terrible drinking and gambling habit. He left the mother, 'a poor consumptive wreck' with all of his gambling debt. On her dying bed, she pleads to her son to get revenge on this man.
Fifteen years later he is employed by a priory to keep the church clean.
But never once in the employ/ Of these holy men/ Did I ever once turn my mind/ From the thought of revenge
One evening by chance, he overhears information that will aid in his plot for vengeance.
One night I overheard/ The prior exchanging words/ With a penitent whaler from the sea/ The captain of his ship/ Who matched you toe to tip/ Was known for wanton cruelty
The following morning he ships to sea on the search for this cruel man who contributed to his mother's death. Finally after twenty months, he has the villian in his sights. As he's getting ready to enact his revenge, a rumbling comes from beneath the sea. A huge whale rips the ships apart, killing everyone on the crew, except...
Don't know how I survived/ The crew all was chewed alive/ I must have slipped between his teeth/ But, oh, what providence/ What divine intelligence/ That you should survive as well as me
Thus, in a twist of fate, the narrator is finally able to fufill the promise he made to his dying mother.
3. "Sharp Objects" by Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn is notorious for writing smart mysteries. She keeps the readers page-turning and wondering what twisted thing will happen next. You may remember the box office success, "Gone Girl" that hit theaters in 2014, this adaption was based on her third novel.
"Sharp Objects" was Flynn's debut novel in 2006, and was adapted as a striking HBO miniseries in 2018. I highly recommend watching if you haven't yet. The command of Flynn's story is remarkable, and the soundtrack is bangin'. I can't wait to see what Flynn comes out with next!
Camille Preaker is a young investigative journalist in Chicago, with an awful drinking problem. Camille is sent to investigate the death of a young girl in her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, where another girl has recently gone missing.
She's estranged from her family. There's her perfect soft-spoken mother, her aloof step-father, and her younger half-sister Amma, who Camille barley remembers, as she left Wind Gap as soon as she could get out.
Throughout the book, we get glimpses of Camille's childhood, notably about her younger sister Marian. Marian was a sickly child and died when she was young. After her death Camille developed a habit of carving words onto her body. The self-harm stretches the entire canvas of her skin, with words like, "Cherry","Wicked", and "Vanish".
As she investigates, she uncovers secrets about the town, and about her own past. The missing girl is found murdered, both victims were strangled and missing all their teeth. Can Camille get to the bottom of the mysteries that keep piling up?
This book has an extremly clever subplot, while we're distracted by the mysterious murders plaguing the town, it is slowly revealed that Camille's mother Adora suffers from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, and poisoned her younger sister Marian. Towards the end of the book, she tries to poison Amma as well, but Camille saves her in the nick of time, by almost sacrificing herself.
Adora is arrested for the murders of the two young girls, and the murder of Camille's younger sister Marian. But, did Adora really savagely kill those girls?
We find out at the very end of the book, that Amma, the younger half-sister was the murderer. Camille finds in Amma's precious dollhouse, a replication of Adora's ivory floor, constructed entirely with human teeth.
4. The Real History of Thanksgiving
Taught repeatedly in school history lessons, everyone has heard the story of Thanksgiving. Of course the education system would want us to learn stories about how America came to be, along with the history of one of America's most beloved holidays.
We are often taught about how pilgrims came over on the Mayflower, landing at Plymouth rock. How they befriended the local Native Americans, and the two groups sat down to a lovely pot-luck style meal with their new found friends, to celebrate a bountiful Fall harvest.
Then we dress up as pilgrims and Native Americans, and trace our hands on construction paper to make turkeys for mom and dad.
Almost every element of the Thanksgiving story we learn as children, is wrong. Even down to the turkey, which would have been a rarity at best during the time.
I implore you to investigate the real history of the colonization of The United States. I'll give a brief rendition of how the true story of Thanksgiving goes.
Around 1580, a man named Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, was born. He was a memeber of the Patuxet tribe, an extension of the Wampanoag Confederacy. Squanto was exceptional in the Native traditions of fishing, hunting, and growing vegetables.
In his youth, he was captured by English explorers and sold into slavery, likely in Spain. Somehow Squanto escaped, making his way to England. There he learned the English language remarkably, and several years later he gained passage on a ship back to his homeland, as an interpreter.
Unfortunately when he returned to his motherland, he found most of his tribe wiped out by diseases that the European settlers had brought with them. The Natives had no immunity for the pleathora of diseases carried by the colonizers.
After several harrowing trials amongst the settlers and the Natives, Squanto used his skills in English to form a peace treaty between the local Native tribes and the pilgrims. Likely as a way to ensure his survival and the security of his people.
Squanto proved invaluable to the survival of the settlers as well, teaching them how to grow vegetables, and survive on the land that his people had occupied for centuries.
Thus in celebration of their collective bounty, and peace treaty, the two groups came together in celebration we now call Thanksgiving.
5. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
In 1999, an American film came out that would change the face of supernatural horror for years to come. Argubly one of the scariest films ever produced, The Blair Witch Project.
The true story of three young film-makers that head into the Black Hills of Maryland in 1994. They are tasked to film a documentary on the local legend of the Blair Witch. A local recluse, Rustin Parr, is said to have captured and killed several children in the 1940's, acting out orders from the Blair Witch. The witch is believed to be the perpetrator of murders dating back several decades in the small town.
The group hikes into the haunted woods to investigate the stories, and find out if they are true. The three are never seen again, but a year later their equipment is found. The found footage film shows what happened to the unlucky trio.
It was all made-up. A marketing triumph, that could have only been executed at a time when technology was accessible, but not so advanced that the audience could easily fact check whether or not the story was true.
It was also one of the first movies to primarly be advertised using the internet. In 1998, the website for the movie went up. On the website you could find interviews, faux police reports and evidence, as well as fielded questions about the missing group. You can still view the original website. Even the IMDB page had the actors listed as 'Missing, presumed dead'
The Blair Witch Project paved the way for the now exceedingly popular found footage horror genre. Movies such as: Paranormal Activity, Creep, and As Above So Below. The found footage element gives the perfect illusion that what you're watching, might actually be real.
My Personal Plot Twists
I'm sure we've all encountered some plot twists in our life, and are bound to experience many more. In my own life I've experienced several, reenforcing the notion that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
1. Recently my sister called me from the ER at 3am freaking out. The doctors said she was going into septic shock, which was insane, and totally uncommon for a twenty-one-year-old. Obviously I was in full panic, living several hours away, and unable to be with her. Turns out the doctors were completley wrong, it was just a flare-up of mononucleosis. Always get a second opinion guys!
2. Just a couple of year ago my cousin and her boyfriend went over the side of a mountain up in North Carolina, one of my worst fears. The roads were icy and foggy, and even though they were going slow, they slipped off the side. Luckily the car caught before going down to far, and they were able to claw their way up the side of the mountain and flag down help.
3. Several years ago we uncoverd two family scandals. The first was that my grandma had lied about getting an abortion. My mother never knew her father, and it turns out he never knew he had a daughter. My grandma had pocketed the abortion money and went ahead and had my mother, thank god! Luckily, the two were able to reconnect, and still talk to this day.
4. The next scandal had to do with my step-father, we found out that his real dad was his uncle, and his uncle was his dad. It's confusing I know! It had always been a suspicion amongst the family, but for some reason they finally went ahead with the DNA testing and found out it was true. The two have been bonding over the years, making up for lost time.
5. Finally, one I just found out about recently. My great-grandma's mother-in-law hated her. For absolutely no reason except that she was Belgian, and my great-grandfather was American. (You can read their love story here.) My Nanny was pregnant with her third child, and sadly, her mother-in-law gave her a strong laxitive on purpose. My already weak grandmother gave birth to a still-born child.
Well, that's all folks. I'm thankful that life is filled with mystery and plot twists. Sometimes good things happen, sometimes bad, but regardless I look forward to seeing what happens next!