Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sasuke Uchiha Megahouse G.E.M. Series Figurine Review

"I don't look to the future any more. Only the past."

Sasuke Uchiha: some people want to hug him, some people want to throw kunai at him. Regardless of where you stand, you’ve got to admit he makes a pretty striking figurine. Today, I’ll be looking in-depth at Megahouse’s latest Naruto Shippuden figurine from the G.E.M. series line.

It does its job, if nothing else. The front of the box is nothing exceptionally flashy. It allows for a good, un-obscured view of the figure, but is otherwise undecorated aside from the necessary logos. The sides and back of the box provide helpful images of the figure, including the interchangeable parts. Overall, the packaging is dark and tinted in shadow. This is an accurate depiction of the character within, but it might not make for the most eye-catching packaging on the collector’s shelf. One creative bit I did appreciate, however, is the top of the box, which provides a transparent top-view of the figure via an embossed Uchiha fan.


Paint job
One of the things that most impressed me about this figure is the lack of paint drips and mis-colors. I searched hard and couldn’t find a single smudge where it shouldn’t be. Even the most error-prone areas—like Sasuke’s zipper—are painted with a fine, clean edge. Both small and large sections are colored with care and it makes the final piece marvelous.

I have no complaints here. Everything from the color-scheme to the facial expression is tastefully done. Naruto fans will be pleased with the accuracy and subtle portrayal of the character. Sasuke doesn’t look evil—or even angry—with this scuplt, which I think a lot of fans will appreciate. Instead, he maintains a steady, prepared, almost wary gaze that allows onlookers to interpret his expression for themselves.

Sasuke has no articulation. He maintains a static pose. The loose pieces of his clothing are crafted from a softer, more flexible material than the rest of the figurine. It’s not something that makes an enormous visual difference, but definitely something you notice while handling him. It’s little details like these that demonstrate how much loving care went into crafting this figure.

Sasuke comes with his chokutō—the Sword of Kusanagi—along with its scabbard. The blade can slip in and out of the scabbard only one way (yet another small detail that adds a lot of accuracy). The sheath slides through the purple rope at his lower back, which makes it look attached. The blade can be extended a bit from the sheath and set squarely in his right palm, making it look like Sasuke is preparing for a fight.

Sasuke comes with three, removable head/neck pieces, which are identical except for the eyes. One head bares his normal, dark eyes. One shows off his Sharingan eyes. And the third blazes with the power of the Mangekyō Sharingan. The first two sets of eyes stare to the right, while the face with the Mangekyō Sharingan appears to be gazing straight ahead, into the distance—perhaps symbolic of the price of the Mangekyō Sharingan.

In order to exchange the faces, Sasuke’s hair comes apart in two, easy pieces—separating the bangs from the spikes on the back.

Sasuke also comes with a round, sturdy base, emblazed with the symbol of the Mangekyō Sharingan and his name. It’s a lovely stand, and it upgrades this guy from being a nice figurine to being a nice display piece.

The accessories are incredibly easy to place and remove. Having collected figurines for years, I was pleasantly surprised by how hassle-free this figurine was. The interchangeable heads come in and out smoothly and without struggle. Everything clicks and fits as it should and I never had to stress any accessory in order to get it to fit properly. Kudos to the designers!

Honestly, there aren’t any that I would consider significant. The box is a bit drab, so if it may detract from the figurine if you plan to keep it in the box. The only other thing to note is that, when I received my figure, the head was not securely attached. Obviously, this was not a problem since the heads are removable, but it did leave me concerned that the loose head may have rolled around in the box and left paint smudges on the rest of the body. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, though it’s something to keep in mind when ordering the figure for yourself.

Final Rating
If you’ve read any of what I’ve written, you already know that this figurine passes my exam in flying, ninja colors.

Sasuke Uchiha is beautifully rendered here—from his sculpt to his accessories. Every part of him works as it’s supposed to, and the extra pieces fit without strain or hassle. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of Sasuke, this is a collector’s piece you can’t afford to pass up. Megahouse has again released a masterful figurine that you can be proud to add to the rest of your Naruto collection.

Megahouse’s G.E.M. series Sasuke Uchiha gets a solid 5 out of 5. That’s an S-rank in my book.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

The Psychology of Writing: Character Development and the 5 Stages of Grief

Characters need to be real to your readers. They need to live, breathe, laugh, cry, fall in love, embarrass themselves, and connect with your audience.

When they endure pain, loss, and trauma, it is important to let them grieve. It’s a powerful part of the healing process and it’s one of the most effective ways to connect with your audience. That’s because grief is something that all humans experience. Regardless of the cause behind the grief that your character is suffering, the audience will tap into it and make it their own. Grief, like fear, is a universal emotion that nearly everyone has felt at some point in their lives. This makes it a powerful tool for creating common ground between your characters and your audience.

In today’s article, I’ll be taking a look at the 5 Stages of Grief as outlined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I’ll begin with a brief look at common misconceptions about the stages of grief, each step of the grieving process, and lastly some examples of the grieving process in media, looking specifically at cases from The Bridge to Terabithia, Kingdom Hearts, Spiderman, and Naruto. There will be spoilers in these final sections for each respective series, so be wary of that and read with caution.
Common Misconceptions about the 5 Stages of Grief
Before we begin looking at the five stages of grief, let’s briefly discuss some misconceptions surrounding these stages.

1. It is not necessary to go through the stages of grief in order to heal. While most individuals (and characters) will go through at least some part of the grieving process, there will be some cases in which characters skip most stages of grieving entirely. These characters are still capable of healing from the trauma over time. The idea that an individual must go through every stage of grief in order to be fully healed is not true. The healing process is as unique as the individuals that go through it. For each individual is a unique healing process. Much will depend upon personality, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, constitution, attitudes, and values.

2. It is not necessary to experience all five stages of grief. Sometimes characters will go through all five stages, but it is just as common for a character to only go through three or four.

3. The stages of grief do not occur in any particular order. Although the stages are listed in the order of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, the grieving process rarely follows this exact pattern. As you’ll see from the examples in this article, the order can be quite varied. It is also not unusual to go through a specific step more than once. For some characters, grief is a line—proceeding from one step to the next, before finally reaching acceptance. But for a majority of characters, grief is a cycle that doesn’t end so easily. For example, even after an individual has achieved “acceptance,” they may revert back to anger or bargaining, only to eventually return to acceptance again.

4. This model is not just for characters facing their own impending deaths. The 5 Stages of Grief model works for any trauma a character may be facing. It could be that the character has a terminal illness, but it could just as well be another distressing incident—the death of a loved one, the loss of a dream, a divorce or breakup, facing a horrible realization or truth, or trying to overcome a crippling addiction.

Now that we’ve cleared up some misconceptions about the grieving process, let’s look at the actual stages.

1. Denial
Some psychologists call this the “denial/isolation” phase. This step is listed first because it is often the first one that occurs chronologically, even though the order of the remaining steps often varies.

In the denial phase, characters do exactly that—deny what is happening to them. If a character is facing terminal cancer, for example, they will choose not to believe such a thing is happening to them. If someone close to the character dies, the character may act unaffected and suspend the belief that their loved one is really gone.

Isolation is a large part of denial. Characters may choose to avoid discussing topics related to their grieving, and they will deliberately distance themselves from anything that reminds them of their present trauma.

In the denial phase, the characters are enduring severe shock. To protect themselves from the awful reality, they create barriers in their minds to fend off the truth. These barriers often take the form of denial—denial that the incident ever occurred. Those around the character during this phase may perceive him/her to be “out-of-it,” “emotionally numb,” or even “apathetic.”

2. Anger
Anger is a natural response to pain. When characters feel wronged, they are naturally going to feel angry. When going through a trauma, characters are likely to feel that they don’t deserve it. They may ask “Why me?” or “Why am I the one being punished?” When they discover no logical answer, anger often follows.

In this phase, characters may become wroth with themselves, with others, with their god or religion, or even with their deceased loved one (if they are grieving their death). It’s not uncommon for characters to feel that their deity has abandoned them, that their loved one deserted them through death, or that they themselves just didn’t do enough.

Anger can manifest itself in many ways—lashing out at others, quick-temperedness, rebellion, yelling, acting cross, striking or destroying inanimate objects (also called displacement), or just generally being tense (clenched fists/jaw, rigid posture, speaking curtly, etc.).

If you are writing your story from the POV of a specific character, they are likely to think angry and upsetting thoughts during this phase. Their anger, like a fire, will leap from object to object in their mind, until they go from being angry at one person/thing to being angry at the entire world around them. They may feel misunderstood, or that they are the only one who is truly suffering (and that others around them are only fooling themselves). This only adds fuel to their anger.

3. Bargaining
In the bargaining phase, characters attempt to “make a deal” with a deity, religion, fate, or person of high importance in their life in order to gain something favorable to their situation. The classic example is the individual who, having a terminal illness, tells God that he/she will give up drinking, smoking, cursing, or start going to church, or give all of their money to charity (or some other promise), in exchange for extended life or healing.

While this is the most traditional form of bargaining, it can come in many shapes in sizes. If a character is facing a divorce or breakup, their form of bargaining may sound something like: “Give me another chance! I promise I’ll do better!”

In its most simplistic form, bargaining is simply asking “What if…” and saying “If only…” It occurs when a character is “stuck” in the middle of their trauma. They replay it over and over in their minds, thinking of things they could have done to fix or avoid the current situation. Rather than being angry at others, they begin to shift the blame to themselves. A myriad of hypothetical questions and alternative scenarios occupy the individual’s mind as a result.

“If only I had gone to the doctor sooner.”
“If only I had never said those things.”
“What if I had listened to God’s calling?”
“What if I had never moved to this new city?”

And so on.

4. Depression
In phase four, exhaustion and reality at last begin to sink in. The individual realizes that the traumatic incident really has happened and that there is nothing they can do to change it. As a result, classic symptoms of depression occur, which can last for a few days (acute depression) or several weeks (clinical depression). In this phase, the character may tend to seek therapeutic help or counseling, particularly if the depression lasts longer than a couple weeks. Most of the time though, the character will simply desire the compassion and understanding of another individual.

Characters enduring the depression phase will experience sadness, regret, and (sometimes) hopelessness above all else. The loss becomes very real to the character during this time and, as a result, they may smile less, desire to be alone, have a change in sleeping patterns, stop laughing, cry frequently, and view the world through a lens tainted by their personal loss.

5. Acceptance
At the end of the grieving cycle, the character faces the reality of the situation and makes peace with it… and with himself/herself.

Some characters may never reach this phase, and their pain, anger, denial, or depression will continue to dog them. Characters who never arrive at the acceptance phase may choose to travel the path of bitterness, revenge, or isolation, or may simply give up on life entirely.

Characters who find acceptance within their personal trauma are able to use it to fuel their future. The pain they have gone through becomes a drive for their goals and ambitions. They do not forget what they have endured, but they choose not to dwell on it or let it cripple them.

If the character is dying, the acceptance phase is one of calm and peace. The character may become thoughtful, quiet, and enjoy periods of isolation. Unlike the depression phase, though, this period is marked by a patient readiness (even happiness) and not a dogging sense of dread and unease.

Examples of the Stages of Grief in Popular Media
Now that we’ve examined each stage in the grieving process, let’s take a look at some examples of characters in media who go through grieving. As you will see, not every character experiences every single stage and each character experiences the stages of grief in a different order. Obviously, examining these examples will mean revealing spoilers from each reference, so be warned before proceeding.

Bridge to Terabithia: Jesse Aarons
The Situation: Fifth grader Jesse Aarons becomes friends with his new neighbor Leslie Burke after he loses a footrace to her at school. Leslie is a smart, talented, outgoing tomboy, and Jesse thinks highly of her. Jesse is an artistic boy who, in the beginning of the novel, is fearful, angry, and depressed. After meeting Leslie, Jesse's life is transformed. He becomes courageous and learns to let go of his frustration. He and Leslie create an imaginary world called Terabithia in the woods near their homes. In Terabithia, they are able to escape their everyday troubles at school and home. One day, Jesse goes to an art museum with his teacher (not notifying his parents beforehand or inviting Leslie to come along), only to return home to learn that Leslie died in a freak accident.

Denial. Jesse’s immediate reaction is denial. He simply cannot accept that Leslie is gone and rationalizes this belief in his mind.

“No," he said, finding his voice. Leslie wouldn't drown. She could swim real good
“No!" Jess was yelling now. "I don't believe you. You're lying to me!"
“It's a lie. Leslie ain't dead!”

He ran until he was stumbling but he kept on, afraid to stop. Knowing somehow that running was the only thing that could keep Leslie from being dead. It was up to him. He had to keep going.

Bargaining.  Jesse’s denial lasts all through the night. He forces himself to believe that the news about Leslie was all just a bad dream. Subsequently, he begins to feel guilty about not inviting Leslie to join him at the museum, knowing that if he had she wouldn’t have drowned. He roleplays the situation in his mind, thinking about ways he could have made things right with Leslie.

…[H]e could tell her about his day in Washington. And apologize. It had been so dumb of him not to ask if Leslie could go, too. He and Leslie and Miss Edmunds could have had a wonderful day-different, of course, from the day he and Miss Edmunds had had, but still good, still perfect. Miss Edmunds and Leslie liked each other a lot. It would have been fun to have Leslie along.

 I'm really sorry, Leslie. He took off his jacket and sneakers, and crawled under the covers. I was dumb not to think of asking.

He would go to see her the first thing in the morning and explain everything. He could explain it better in the daytime when he had shaken off the effects of his unremembered nightmare.

Anger. Jesse’s denial continues through most of Leslie’s funeral… until he overhears her father talking about cremation. This is the catalyst that causes Jesse to realize Leslie is truly gone and that he will never see her again. He begins to grow angry at those around him.

Cremated. Something clicked inside Jess's head. That meant Leslie was gone. Turned to ashes. He would never see her again. Not even dead. Never. How could they dare? Leslie belonged to him. More to him than anyone in the world. No one had even asked him. No one had even told him. And now he was never going to see her again, and all they could do was cry. Not for Leslie. They weren't crying for Leslie. They were crying for themselves. Just themselves. If they'd cared at all for Leslie, they would have never brought her to this rotten place.

He had to hold tightly to his hands for fear he might sock Bill in the face. He, Jess, was the only one who really cared for Leslie. But Leslie had failed him. She went and died just when he needed her the most. She went and left him. She went swinging on that rope just to show him that she was no coward. So there, Jess Aarons. She was probably somewhere right now laughing at him. She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.

Later on, Jesse physically strikes his younger sister upon his return home.

He banged through the door. May Belle was standing there, her brown eyes wide. "Did you see her?" she asked excitedly. "Did you see her laid out?"

He hit her. In the face. As hard as he had ever hit anything in his life.

Depression. In a rage, Jesse takes Leslie’s Christmas gift to him and throws it in the river where she drowned—an attempt to severe his ties with her and heal the pain in his heart. It’s at this point that Jesse experiences a mental and emotional breakdown.

Gradually his breath quieted, and his heart slowed from its wild pace. The ground was still muddy from the rains, but he sat down anyway. There was nowhere to go. Nowhere. Ever again. He put his head down on his knee.

Upon first returning to Terabithia, Jesse feels a wave of depression strike as he wonders if the magic of the world still exists. Leslie brought the world to life, and he wonders if it will still feel alive to him now that she is gone.

He landed slightly upstream from Terabithia. If it was still Terabithia. If it could be entered across a branch instead of swung into.

Acceptance. After a deep discussion with his father, Jesse comes to accept Leslie’s death. He realizes that he needs to carry on in honor of his friend. He chooses to invite others to the land of Terabithia after a personal reflection about how much this imaginary land helped him cope with the troubles in his own life.

It was Leslie who had taken him from the cow pasture into Terabithia and turned him into a king. He had thought that was it. Wasn't king the best you could be?

Now it occurred to him that perhaps Terabithia was like a castle where you came to be knighted. After you stayed for a while and grew strong you had to move on. For hadn't Leslie, even in Terabithia, tried to push back the walls of his mind and make him see beyond to the shining world - huge and terrible and beautiful and very fragile? (Handle with care - everything - even the predators.)

Now it was time for him to move out. She wasn't there, so he must go for both of them. It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength.

Kingdom Hearts II: Roxas
The Situation: Roxas is a teen-aged boy growing up in Twilight Town with his three best friends. Roxas finds his sleep filled with mysterious dreams and he begins to experience supernatural phenomena that others are not aware of. With summer break coming to a close, he decides to investigate an abandoned mansion deep in the woods outside Twilight Town in order to complete an assignment for the upcoming semester. Inside the mansion, he meets a mysterious girl who has answers about his strange experiences and dreams. Roxas learns that he was never meant to exist, and that his life is not his own to live. He must return to his original body—a boy named Sora, who is currently comatose and will never reawaken unless Roxas returns to him.

Denial. Roxas begins with blatant denial. He refuses to believe that he simply doesn’t exist and that he is merely a small part of somebody else. The thought that he was never meant to be born is painful to him, so he blocks out the reality of the situation.

“What?! How could you even say such a thing? Even if it were true…”
“I am ME! Nobody else!”

Depression. However, as the days wear on—and summer’s end draws nearer—Roxas begins to question what the mysterious girl told him. If he truly was never meant to be born, then his entire life (and all that he accomplishes) is meaningless. His disturbing dreams continue, and Roxas finds himself having difficulty sleeping. When he hangs around his friends, he becomes preoccupied and stops smiling and laughing along with them. 

Roxas also begins viewing his world through an ominous lens. When his friend, Olette, casually comments, “We only have two days left together,” Roxas hears the worst and starts to panic. Olette clarifies that she was only talking about the two days left before summer vacation ended.

Anger. Eventually Roxas comes to learn that his entire world is fake—a hologram created by the man who tricked him into believing he was “real.” As memories of his capture and amnesia begin to come back, Roxas flies into a rage—destroying an entire supercomputer and relentlessly attacking a hologram-projection of the man who erased his memories.

“I hate you… so much!”

Acceptance. As Roxas arrives at Sora’s resting place, he realizes that his time has come. Sora must be reawakened. Roxas sees little point in continuing when the world he knew is as nonexistent as he himself was meant to be. Stepping over to Sora, he offers a weak smile and accepts his fate gracefully, fading back into Sora and reawakening him.

“Sora… You’re lucky. Looks like my summer vacation is… over.”

Naruto: Rock Lee
The Situation: Since he was a child, Lee has had the lifelong dream of becoming a great ninja. Unfortunately, he has no ability to use ninjutsu (special ninja powers) or genjutsu (mind-manipulating powers)—abilities deemed necessary for anyone wanting to become a ninja. In fact, ninja without these powers are considered rarities—and not for good reasons.

Growing up at the academy, Lee finds himself consistently bullied for his inability to pull off even the most simplistic ninjutsu. Ignoring the naysayers, Lee begins to focus on the one technique he’s only half-decent at—taijutsu, hand-to-hand combat. Through brutal self-discipline and difficult training, Lee becomes the very first ninja student to graduate who can only use one of the three ninja jutsu types.

As he continues training under his sensei, Lee advances beyond most of his peers and eventually gains entrance into the chunin exams (the next ninja rank), where he is pitted against Gaara—a ninja protected by an impenetrable barrier of sand. Lee becomes the first person to ever physically strike Gaara in combat, and literally beats him into the ground with his taijutsu, but the feat comes at a high price. His arm and leg are crippled in the battle by Gaara’s sand coffin jutsu, and Lee is told that his dreams of being a ninja are now unattainable. His only chance of recovery is a risky surgery with a 50% survival rate.

Lee is faced with two impossible choices: (1) give up on a life-long dream he’s worked so hard to achieve or (2) opt to undergo the surgery and possibly die from the process.

Denial. Even though he’s told his ninja days are over, Lee refuses to listen. He sneaks out of his hospital room in order to perform his daily training, regardless of the fact that his arm and leg are severely injured. He faithfully attends his physical therapy sessions and begins taking foreign herbal medications with the belief that he’ll be cured. Up to this point, Lee has persevered against his odds simply by pushing himself to work harder than the others in order to overcome his learning disabilities. Because of that, he believes that by simply wishing hard enough, and working hard enough, he can get better. He refuses to even consider the fact that his dream is finished.

“I have to finish my training!”
“I will never give up! I will be back stronger than ever!”

Bargaining. But slowly, Lee begins to wonder if hard work is really enough. Nothing he does seems to help, and when the top medical ninja in the land tells him his situation is nearly hopeless, Lee begins to question himself. He engages in “magical thinking,” picking petals off a flower in order to determine the outcome of a potential surgery attempt. In this way, he’s bargaining with fate. He’s asking for a sign, believing that something he does can affect the ultimate outcome.

“Success…? Or…”

Depression. The results of Lee’s bargaining turn out negative. He begins to grow overwhelmed by his situation. Since he was a child, his dream has propelled him past all opposition, but now pursuing it means risking his very life. With this impossible decision hanging over his head, Lee becomes exhausted. He develops insomnia, grows hopeless, seeks isolation, and skips his physical therapy classes.

“Even if I believe in myself… It will not make the slightest difference.”

Anger. Finally, Lee cannot withhold his anguish any longer. His body grows tense as he becomes angry with the situation he’s been put in. He’s had to work three times harder than his peers, just to get as far as he has. Now, he feels that life is being unfair to him, and he has done nothing to deserve this fate.

“How come I am the only one being punished like this?!”

Acceptance. Lee finds consolation and assurance through his sensei. He realizes that he needs to make a decision, and that even a bad decision is better than no decision at all. If he wants to be freed from the suffering of indecision, Lee will have to make a choice. He ultimately chooses to accept the surgery, recognizing the fact that his dream to be a ninja is what has brought him this far. To give up on it now would crush him, and he is willing to take a risk in order to continue pursuing his dream.

Spiderman: Peter Parker
The Situation: High school senior, Peter Parker, lives with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben who act as the parents he no longer has. During a trip to a genetics laboratory, Peter is bitten by a radio-active spider and begins to develop superpowers—shooting webs from his hands, developing an extra-perception sense, enhanced eyesight, and more. These additions come in handy for dealing with bullies at school… and impressing Mary Jane, a girl that Peter hopes to date.

One day, Peter sees an advertisement for a wrestling competition with a large cash reward for the winner. He envisions himself using the money to buy an expensive car and impress Mary Jane, confident that his new superpowers will guarantee him the victory. Not wanting to let his aunt or uncle in on his secret, he lies to Uncle Ben about where he is going and his uncle drops him off at a spot near the tournament. Peter receives a brief lecture from his uncle about the responsible use of power, but Peter brushes off the advice and he and his uncle part on poor terms.

Peter ultimately wins the wrestling match, but the promoter cheats him out of the promised money. A thief rushes in at that exact moment and steals a stash of money from the promoter. Peter allows the thief to slip by him, angry at the promoter’s double-dealings and feeling that it’s only just that the thief gets away.

Upon leaving the tournament, Peter finds out that his uncle has been carjacked and mortally shot. Enraged, he pursues the killer, only to discover that it’s the same thief that he let escape earlier. Had he stopped the thief when he had the chance, his uncle would still be alive.

Anger. After a brief period of mourning, Peter goes in hot pursuit of the criminal. He’s so angry he can hardly control himself and he wants only revenge. He shows no mercy to his uncle’s killer, not yet knowing his true identity.

“Did you give him a chance?! The man you killed?! Did you?! Answer me!”

Denial. When Peter sees the criminal’s face, and realizes who it is, cold denial freezes him in place. He briefly blocks out the thought that this man could be the same one that he let escape. During his temporary paralysis , the thief nearly kills him.

“No! No, not you!”

Bargaining. Peter replays the moment where he lets the thief escape. The cruel truth begins to dawn on him: if he had stopped the thief then and there, his uncle would still be alive. He begins to blame himself for his uncle’s death, believing it’s his fault and that—if only he had acted differently—he wouldn’t be facing this situation. This reoccurring thought continues to haunt Peter.

Depression. After dispatching the thief, Peter retreats to the isolation of a dark rooftop. He sits in silence, mourning for his uncle. Later, when Peter graduates, the thought of his uncle comes back to him, and he wishes more than anything that his uncle had been there on his special day. He goes to his bedroom for some private recollection.

“I'm so sorry...”

“I can’t stop thinking about the last thing I said to him.. He tried to tell me something important and I threw it in his face.”

Acceptance. Peter’s aunt comforts him with encouraging words. She assures Peter that his uncle loved him very much and that both she and Uncle Ben know that Peter is destined for greatness. Peter then realizes that the best way to honor his uncle is to heed his words: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Peter uses this to drive him forward as he fights crime and protects the city using his special gifts.  

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

A Final Note about the 5 Stages of Grief
When implementing the 5 Stages of Grief into your writing, use it as a tool to guide your characters and not an absolute to dictate what happens to them. Grieving is a difficult, painful process and each character will experience it differently. Don’t believe that there is one specific way to write about grief, or that a character must follow all five steps of the process in order to make your writing “realistic.” A more realistic approach would be to have your characters skip steps of the process, repeat some, and completely change around the traditional order laid out by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

Remember to consider your character’s personality, values, beliefs, attitudes, and dispositions when they grieve. This will greatly affect what steps they spend the most time in, which steps they skip, how the overall process changes them, and whether or not they finally reach acceptance.

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The Psychology of Writing: 5 Ways to Create Emotional Connection Between Your Readers and Your Characters by Using "Uncontrollable Circumstances"
The Psychology of Writing: 4 Ways to Give Your Readers the Right Impression Of Your Characters, World, and Tone
The Psychology of Writing: 5 Ways to make your Characters “Click” with Readers using Vulnerability, Proximity, Resonance, Similarity, and Shared Adversity

Saturday, May 10, 2014

7 Ways to Disguise a “Didn't-See-It-Coming” Plot Twist

“Luke, I am your father.”
“Would you kindly?”
“And so it goes with God.”

Nothing’s quite like getting that chilling punch in the gut when you realize not all is as it seems. 

Media thrives on its ability to entertain and enlighten, and a good plot twist is capable of performing both tasks in one fell swoop. When you can successfully catch your audience off guard, you will thrill their hearts, impress them, and increase the odds that they’ll keep coming back for more.

In today’s article, I’ll review seven ways that you can achieve a satisfying, compelling plot twist that your readers will never see coming.

Note: This article will reference plot twists used in the following media: Great Expectations, Wreck-It-Ralph, Frozen, Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, Reapers, Final Fantasy X, Shutter Island, and Life of Pi. **Be wary of spoilers** I will designate spoiler-heavy paragraphs, which will allow you to skip these sections if needed.

The Key to a Successful Plot Twist
Before we launch into the seven ways, let me say something very important—something key—about the nature of pulling off a plot twist. 

Plot twists must have some form of foreshadowing or hinting in order to be respected by your audience. This shows your respect for your readership in that you are giving them the chance to come to the conclusive plot twist on their own. Your reader should be able to read back through the book in hindsight and locate moments in your story in which the twist was hinted at.

The reason that this is important is because plot twists cannot be conjured on a whim. There must be some “prior warning” that the plot twist is coming. Otherwise, it won’t feel satisfying and your reader is likely to suspend their belief that the plot twist even happened. This sort of suspension of belief isn’t a good thing. The suspension of belief that comes from a shocking, but lightly foreshadowed, plot twist is the sort you should strive for. Otherwise, you run the risk of not having your readers take you, or your novel, seriously.

Alright, let’s move on to the seven ways to successfully disguise a plot twist.

1. Disguise it as a Plot Element
When you drop hints about your forthcoming plot twist, be sure that they serve a logical function in the story. Otherwise, your sharper readers are likely to pinpoint these hints for exactly what they are: foreshadowing. This can lead to your readers foreseeing the plot twist long before it ever happens. This, in turn, will ruin the intended effect.

A film that does this exceptionally well is Wreck-It Ralph. After Ralph abandons his game the concept of “game-jumping” is introduced, which occurs when arcade characters enter other arcade games they are not meant to be a part of. In order to illustrate the danger of “game-jumping,” one character relates the story of a character called Turbo who game-jumped, leaving his racing game abandoned. This caused his entire game, and the characters within it, to be removed from the arcade on the pretext that the game was broken and out-of-order.

Later on in the film, it is revealed that King Candy, the false ruler of the racing game Sugar Rush, is actually Turbo in disguise. Most audience members never saw this twist coming, simply because they didn’t see the illustration of Turbo as foreshadowing. This is because Turbo’s story is shown to have a functioning role in the plot—explaining the threat of “game-jumping” and why the arcade characters are so serious about opposing it. King Candy (Turbo’s disguised alias) is a character that belongs in a racing game and drives a racecar (like the others in Sugar Rush), which also serves as foreshadowing disguised as a storyline function. If King Candy had been the only racecar driver in his game, for example, the audience may have more quickly drawn the connection between him and Turbo.


2. Offer a Believable Alternative
This twist is used a lot in mysteries and thrillers, where readers are supposed to decipher “who-dun-it.” A situation is set up in which characters are candidates of something (often suspects in a crime), but only one is truly involved (or guilty, in the case of a mystery). With this twist, you must be careful not to plant overwhelming “evidence” on the incorrect character (most readers will see your efforts and cross this character off the suspect list). This is especially ineffective if another suspect appears entirely innocent. Side-by-side, this is often an indication to the reader that the seemingly innocent character is the true “guilty party.”

But this plot-twist gimmick isn’t only used in thrillers and mysteries. It is often used to simply surprise the audience—making them believe that a certain character is responsible for an action in the story when, in truth, it’s somebody they’d never expect.  A story that makes use of this gimmick is the classic novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

At the beginning of the novel, the main character Pip encounters an escaped convict while visiting his family’s cemetery. He brings the convict—Abel Magwitch—some food and a file in order to remove his chains. The convict is captured by the authorities shortly afterward.

Later, Pip is sent to the estate of Miss Havisham in order to act as a playmate to her adopted daughter Estella. He eventually falls in love with Estella and holds on to hope that Miss Havisham will approve his eventual engagement to her daughter. As Pip continues to mature and pursue his apprenticeship as a blacksmith, he is eventually approached by a lawyer. Pip is told that he has a wealthy benefactor who has promised him a large sum of money if he will go to London and learn to be a gentleman. Believing that Miss Havisham is acting as the benefactor in order to make him a suitable match for Estella, Pip travels to London and begins to grow cultured. 

The plot twist occurs when, after some time, Pip’s benefactor is revealed to be—not Miss Havisham—but Abel Magwitch, the escaped convict. Things grow increasingly complicated from this point.

This plot twist is effective because the audience is convinced that the only person who could be the benefactor is Miss Havisham. The plot seems to indicate that she intends for Pip to have Estella (we later learn otherwise), and the escaped convict seems far out of the picture at this point in the novel. At the same time, Dickens does explain how Abel Magwitch came into money and gives the reader Abel’s motivation for wanting to help Pip (the kindness that Pip showed him early on in the story). The foreshadowing is securely in place, but readers often don’t see this part of the story coming until it hits them.


3. Disquiet the Audience… Then Assure them Otherwise
Sometimes you don’t need direct foreshadowing in order to create a solid plot twist. Sometimes it’s enough to just throw your audience off a bit, and then assure them that all is well. When the plot twist finally comes, the audience will remember their early suspicions and feel that the twist is justified. This can be especially useful when introducing a character that is later going to be a traitor or villain.

Let’s talk about Hans. You all saw this one coming.

When he’s first introduced, Hans is portrayed as somebody trying to find his place in the world. He’s a bit clumsy, kind of goofy (perhaps even air-headed), noble, and well-mannered. The audience finds him agreeable enough, and their appreciation for him grows throughout the film as they see his kind deeds and heroic efforts.

However, Disney does two things early on in the film to disquiet the audience and make them feel a little “uneasy” about Hans. Firstly, Hans proposes to Anna just a few hours after interacting with her at the coronation. Elsa shows vehement disapproval to the marriage, whilst Hans seems very eager to get it underway. The audience is aware of Disney’s get-married-after-we-just-met cliché, but something about Han’s eagerness likely rubs the audience the wrong way (from shock and disbelief at the speed of the proposal if nothing else). Elsa firmly telling Anna, “You can’t marry a man you just met” serves to reinforce this notion.

The second thing Hans does to disquiet the audience is much more subtle: he imitates those around him. When he is with Anna, he picks up her goofy, fun-loving, boisterous, awkward attitude. When he is around Elsa, he is more serious, reasonable, and logical. He imitates the attitudes of those around him and shows distrust for others, even asking Anna if she thinks she can trust Elsa. These are both signs of an untrustworthy, or fake, individual.

However, any uneasiness that the audience may feel at the beginning of the movie is quickly disbanded by Han’s later heroics. Anna leaves him in charge of the castle, and Hans doesn’t take it over (as some audience members might suspect). Instead, he personally spends time in the cold handing out cloaks to freezing women and children. He fearlessly leads a charge into Elsa’s castle, battles a snow-monster, and appears to save Elsa’s life and bring her to her senses. This lulls the audience into a false belief that their earlier apprehension was nothing to be concerned about. Of course, when Hans later shows his true colors, the audience is taken by surprise, but not to the point where the twist seems unrealistic or “out of the blue.”

Sometimes, just making the audience feel uneasy or “off” about a character can be enough to achieve a “didn’t-see-it-coming” twist. The secret is to create the unease early and then spend the rest of the time assuring the audience otherwise. Give the questionable character a chance to show their true colors, but don’t let them take it right away (such as when Hans is first given governance of the kingdom, but doesn’t abuse the power immediately).


4. Give Hints… Then Go a Step Further
One effective way to pull off a twist is to give the reader foreshadowing as to what could happen… and then take things a step further than they would expect. In this way, you give the reader a false sense of control (“I know where this is going…”) before you surprise them by adding a twist to the twist, so to speak. For an example of this kind of twist, I’ll be looking at a newly-released novel called Reapers by Bryan Davis.

In Reapers, the three main characters Phoenix, Singapore, and Shangri are reapers responsible for reaping souls and delivering them to the Gateway where they will be sent to their eternal destination. However, much suspicion surrounds the existence of the Gateway and the mysterious Gatekeeper who dwells therein. Gateway Deniers claim that the Gateway does not truly deliver souls to their final resting place, and that, instead, the Gatekeeper has a less benevolent use for them.

Throughout the novel, the reaper Singapore shows interest in what lies beyond the Gateway. No reaper has ever returned from the Gateway, and she believes that one should enter it in order to uncover its many secrets. Of course, she acknowledges, the only way to enter the Gateway would be to die. With these small hints peppering the book, some readers are likely to get the hint that Singapore is going to die in the course of the novel in order to achieve her goal.

The plot twist comes when Phoenix (the main character) is forced to choose between Singapore’s life and the lives of several hundred innocent prisoners. While insightful readers may pick up that Singapore is about to die (which is a bit of a twist of its own) the book takes things a step further by having Singapore take her own life, thus making the decision for Phoenix.

This type of plot twist is most effective if you’ve dropped several hints at what is going to happen in your novel (and you believe that your reader has picked up on these). Once you have established a first, lesser plot twist, you can cap this twist with a greater twist that your readers very likely won’t see coming. Think of it as an iceberg—hint at what lies above the water, then surprise the reader with what lies below in order to give them the full picture.


5. Twist a Long-Standing Plot Gimmick
This style of twist works best in a series where the reader has come to expect certain things. The trick is to take a staple of the series and turn it on its head. By this time, readers have been lulled into a false sense of security involving the long-standing plot element unique to the series. Due to this, they probably won’t see the twist coming, especially if you incorporate this element with one or two of the other tricks I’ve discussed. 

The Ace Attorney video game series is chock full of twists and turns. It’s a mystery-solving game that’s one part Scooby-Doo investigation and one part courtroom procedure. Because of this, the franchise as a whole is a great source for effective plot twist examples. The one I want to focus on specifically occurs in the latest installment Dual Destinies.

A long-standing plot element of Ace Attorney is the different character types that fill certain roles. Each compilation contains a unique, main prosecutor, defense attorney, detective, and court-assistant. These are staples to the series and the audience comes to expect them. These particular character types are never the guilty party (with the exception of one prosecutor found guilty more through self-defense than homicide).

The detective character, especially, is very helpful and usually a fun-loving, slightly awkward character. In Dual Destinies, Detective Fulbright is introduced and he fits the typical detective persona to a t. Throughout the game, he helps the main characters solve cases, capture criminals, and discover evidence. By the end of the game, he even goes against the prosecutor’s wishes by allowing the defense to investigate a specific crime-scene. Overall, he’s just a nice guy doing his job in the name of justice. He begins to grow on the player and his desire to see his prosecuting companion freed from false charges is obviously honorable.

So when he’s revealed to be the killer, it’s a bit of a punch in the gut to the players.

The scriptwriters do an excellent job of throwing players off of Fulbright’s guilty side. The most subtle of hints are dropped in order cover the foreshadowing requirement. But what catches the audience most off guard is the fact that this latest installment twists a long-standing plot gimmick of the Ace Attorney series; namely, making the detective the guilty party. Dual Destinies also utilizes the “go a step further” plot twist shortly after Fulbright is suspected as the killer. It is later discovered that Detective Fulbright has been dead for quite some time, and that the man posing as him is a spy working for an unknown client.

Like all other techniques, it’s important to drop foreshadowing hints when you pull the “longstanding plot gimmick” twist. The uniqueness of this twist to your established series will definitely knock readers for a loop, but be sure to reinforce this twist with appropriate, innocuous hints.


6. Twist a Long-Standing Cliché
This one is similar to the point I just discussed. But whereas a long-standing plot gimmick is something unique to your specific series, a long-standing cliché is something shared by all novels ever written. As writers, we’re told to avoid clichés like the plague: don’t make the villain your main character’s real father, don’t let the shy high-school girl fall for tall dark and handsome guy (who’s really a vampire *gasp*), don’t make the butler the killer, and so on. 

However, when it comes to plot twists, clichés can be very helpful because readers are led to expect certain things. This gives the reader a false sense of security, allowing them to believe that your plot point is predictable and that they know where it’s headed. That’s when you turn the cliché on its head.

In Final Fantasy X, the main character Tidus is a blitzball player of some renown in the land of Zanarkard. During a much-anticipated playoff, his home-world is attacked by the creature Sin and Tidus is warped away to a foreign land. As he begins to familiarize himself with this new world called Spira, Tidus discovers that the locals believe Zanarkand was destroyed long ago. They think he’s crazy for calling it his home turf, telling him that getting too close to Sin can mess with your mind.

Of course, the audience knows that Tidus really is from Zanarkard and that the inhabitants of Spira are either wrong, part of some time/space continuum far in the future, or part of some wacky dream going on in Tidus’s head. Tidus knows that this Spira place isn’t where he belongs, and he struggles to get back home to Zanarkard. The audience believes, like Tidus, that Spira is not the “real world.” It’s not the place that Tidus should be. Spira is likely some sort of dream or non-existent fantasy—maybe even a portal of some kind, created when Sin attacked Zanarkand.

But of course the plot twist comes, turning the long-standing dream cliché on its head. Spira is the real world. Tidus is the dream. In fact, he was born and raised in a dream world—one that isn’t even real; one that will vanish, along with him, eventually.

The “it was just a dream” cliché has been around for awhile, though Alice and Wonderland did much to popularize its presence. The scriptwriters for Final Fantasy X realized that their audience would expect Tidus’s adventures to all be a dream as well (or at least something of the equivalent). Cleverly, they flipped this cliché on its head, making Tidus the dream in a real, tangible world. The plot twist is effective because it breaks a stereotype that is shared by all storytelling mediums.


7. Twist Reality or Perspective
Alice in Wonderland helped to make this plot twist rather popular, rendering Alice’s fantastical adventures a mere dream. Today, this plot twist type is more common, and it’s put to use often in psychological thrillers, mysteries, and sci-fi mind benders like Inception and Shutter Island.

Two different twists of this kind can occur: (1) the perspective twist and (2) the reality twist.

The perspective twist is best incorporated when telling a story from the perspective of one specific viewpoint character. Because we are limited to the POV of this single character, what he/she perceives is what we believe. This can have mind-bending results on the readers—creating some seriously insane plot twists—due to the isolated perspective that the audience is given.

For example, in the novel Shutter Island **SPOILER ALERT** the main character is sent to investigate a hospital for the criminally insane, specifically seeking out an escaped resident. The reader believes this to be the case because the story is told from the perspective of the main character. That’s why readers are just as surprised as the protagonist when he discovers that he’s actually one of the patients at the hospital himself. **END OF SPOILERS**

The reality twist has more to do with the character’s surroundings and less to do with what goes on inside their mind. Their perspective isn’t skewed so much as their surroundings have been morphed in some way. The reader believes the skewed perspective, whilst the character may or may not be aware of the truth.

A good example of this occurs in The Life of Pi, in which a boy is stranded on a boat at sea with four animals—a zebra with an injured leg, an orangutan, a hyena, and a tiger—following a dangerous shipwreck. **SPOILER ALERT** The story describes the harsh experiences of the animals and boy on the boat. The hyena kills and eats the zebra and then kills the orangutan. Later the tiger kills the hyena and the boy is left alone on the boat with the tiger. The plot twist occurs later when the boy, Pi, is relating his story to the Japanese Ministry of Transport. After hearing his tale, the officials reject his story as unbelievable. Pi then tells a second version of the story in which he is on the boat with the ship’s cook, a Taiwanese sailor with a broken leg, and his mother. He describes how the cook cut off the sailor’s leg for fishing bait, later killing both the sailor and Pi’s mother for food. Pi later kills the cook and eats him in order to survive. When asked which version of the story they liked better, the officials chose the story with the animals. Pi simply says, “And so it goes with God,” and the story ends, never concluding which version is the real one. This obscured reality creates a powerful plot twist. **END OF SPOILERS**

A Final Note on Plot Twists
While any of these techniques can be incredibly effective in writing a plot twist, combining two or three will achieve even better results. If you remember nothing else, remember this: plot twists thrive on what is not expected (what is outside the norm) and must have some form of foreshadowing in order to be powerful and satisfying.

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