I've been thinking about the big reveal in stories. You know, like the Big Surprise in The Crying Game or The Sixth Sense. There are a few reasons this has been on my mind.
- I just rewatched Fight Club, including listening to the commentary track by the director and stars,
- I just read a story which had a big reveal, and
- Of course, I'm writing mystery stories.
Mystery stories, by their nature, have a big reveal: the solution to the mystery. But I've never found that the mystery and its solution are the main reason I'm drawn to certain mystery series and writers. And, listening to the commentary track for Fight Club, it was pretty clear that the actors and director were far more interested in the reveal than I was.
For the actors, of course, it made sense, since they had to play the parts. But it wasn't what made the movie good, it wasn't why people quote it all the time, it wasn't why there's "Jane Austin's Fight Club" (google it immediately if you haven't seen it). And, if Fight Club was really just about guys beating each other up, why are the biggest FC fans I've known all young women? (Which is why the Jane Austin clip is so great.)
Why do I read and re-read the Nero Wolfe mysteries? Not because of the mysteries, though some of them are very good. But mostly to spend time with Wolfe and Archie and Fritz and Saul Panzer and Cramer and the gang.
On the other hand, though the mystery and the reveal are not the most important thing, you do have to handle them correctly. As I refer to here, one of the problems with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that it is a good mystery, surprisingly classical in its construction, but it isn't handled correctly. When the solution to the mystery is revealed over one hundred pages before the end of the book, the rest of the book inevitably becomes a letdown.
Full disclosure: I knew the secret in The Sixth Sense before I saw the movie, from reading reviews. Movie critics like to hint when they know something you don't, and if you put enough hints together you can get to the fact. I still enjoyed the movie. I knew the secret in The Crying Game for the same reason most New Yorkers did – they did a survey when the movie came out, and (for some weird reason) people in New York weren't fooled. But it was still a good movie, and not only because it quotes, more than once, the story of the frog and the scorpion from Orson Welles' film Mr. Arkadin. And I had no interest in The Village at all until I read a spoiler online. I did enjoy the movie, unlike many people, and I never would have seen it if it hadn't known the "twist" ending.
With Fight Club I didn't have a clue.
Which brings us to spoilers, a topic I talked about here. The Time article I link to, the one that started me thinking about this, seems to have been removed (or at least the link now goes to a different, though related, article). I also had a link to an article on Slate about spoilers, and that seems to be gone completely. Conspiracy?
At least the A. V. Club leaves their articles online.