The Nature of a Good Plot Twist

I finished playing Heavy Rain last night, and it got me thinking about plot twists and their function in storytelling. Heavy Rain is a game that places itself firmly in the “thriller movie” genre, for better or worse.

It’s great at building tension and getting you to care about the characters you meet and control, but it falls into the trap that undermines so many thrillers, namely that its endgame centers around a “shocking” reveal that doesn’t actually make any logical sense.

(Just a quick warning: this rest of this post will contain spoilers about movies that are old enough I will assume everyone has seen them. There will be no Heavy Rain spoilers, however.)

The problem with plot twists, see, is that by nature they should make you jump out of your seat or gasp in horror. You’d never expect that [CHARACTER NAME] was the killer in Heavy Rain, after all, and you are of course horrified that you empathized with the character while playing. That’s the root of the problem, though; in order to make the twist ending truly surprising, the game’s writers decided to fill the story with red herrings and give no real concrete clues about the real killer’s identity. They didn’t want you to figure it out ahead of time, after all.