Subverting expectations

I remember one of my biggest nagging fears being “I won’t be able to surprise the audience”. I think I’ve already said I wasn’t exactly subtle in my foreshadowing, but couldn’t quite control myself. So if there was something that someone hasn’t called, it was probably just due to the lack of the rest of the vital information.

And so even though there was more complicated bullshit to my final twists, I remember being actually scared when the first person commented with “that’s the twist, right?”

I sat and thought “well, good job being graceful with your hints Xam, what’s the goddamn point now? anyone who’s read that comment technically knows the ending. who’d want to sit through an entire slowly updating comic to get an ending people saw coming ages ago?”

I’ve heard of other webcomic creators having a similar issue. And while my case probably could’ve been saved with some rewrites, I gotta say: it’s ok to be predictable sometimes.

i’m gonna go to Homestuck for an example again, because it’s probably its fault for making me feel like I also have to pull out twists like handkerchiefs, heh.

I think at some point Hussie started doing things just to subvert expectations, and nothing else. HS fans were ready to overanalyse any tiniest bit from the update, they’d immediately figure out obvious stuff. And from what I remember, Hussie was great at doing just that: surprising us with the endless twists

But the other times I feel like he was sabotaging himself on purpose. Like, some other stuff honestly would’ve worked better if he wasn’t trying so hard to be unconventional. As if nobody told him “it’s ok man, it’s not gonna be the end of the world if Jade is a Seer of Light and Rose is a Witch of Space and the fans see it coming”.

Another, personally infuriating example is the phrase “real people don’t have arcs”. I’m sure it was less a subversion and more just Hussie accidentally writing himself in the corner with the improv comic and trying to cover it while sounding deep, but it was one of the things that killed the ending for me. Like, maybe it’s just me, but I can’t root for the story that actively refuses to let characters learn important things and finish their journey in a logical and satisfying way. It doesn’t even mean anything. Real people do have arcs, I know I did. I’m still having several of those. And I hope to wrap them up nicely and get my own real-person development one day.

Paranatural also seems to love the subversion of the tropes. but recently it mostly devolved into the “character says or does something dramatic, it builds up to something big – haha PSYCHE it wasn’t important at all” schtick.

Which is fine a few times, I’m also weak for the “cynical character that breaks up the tension” trope for example. But you gotta watch out for it, since when overused, it just becomes tiring, pointless and, weirdly enough, predictable. It stops being a neat little trick and starts being an outright lie, denial or an annoyance.

If the audience has been tricked into this trope so many times, it starts asking a very legit question: if nothing is actually important enough to warrant a serious, dramatic or tense moment, why should we care? If none of the established clues lead to the logical conclusion, what’s the point in trying to figure stuff out?

Basically, I’d say the rule of the thumb is: just don’t waste your readers’ time. If you can’t think of a good twist, don’t scotch-tape a bad one just because you “ought to”.

I liked how Nostalgia Critic explained this issue in The Devil review: if all of the characters have turned into the snowmen of George Takei, we wouldn’t have seen it coming, but it doesn’t mean that’s a good twist. A detective story where you’ve figured out the killer yourself is fine, but a detective story where the killer is an absolutely random character immediately renders the entire book full of misleading/unrelated clues worthless.

If your readers have figured everything out – good for them! It means they paid attention, and the story flow wasn’t too confusing to understand what’s going on. In the end, it’s not the outcome that matters, but the execution of it.

Speaking of Hussie’s work, a great chunk of Problem Sleuth was just the final battle. We knew what was going to happen, of course the heroes were going to win. We just didn’t know how that was going to happen, and it happened in the most amazing and batshit insane way possible.


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