Revelation: The Intrigue of Your Story

The intrigue of your story.

It’s what keeps your audience interested and keeps them guessing. It’s that progressive mystery. That rolling out of information that hooks ’em and simultaneously keeps ’em curious.

“Revelation” is all about surprising your audience, while moving the story forward.

There are three main methods for executing revelations in your story:

  • The Question and Answer Method
  • The Mystery and Reveal Method
  • The Unknown Surprise Method

Question and Answer Method

What’s that look like?

You raise a question, then you answer it.

The level of suspense is determined by how much ambiguity and time you put between the initial raising of the question, and the eventual answer.

Example: Will he take the job offer?

The question raised, is obvious. There’s a job on the table – will he take it or not? That’s the mystery. When he makes that decision, that’s when we have our answer.

Question. Answer.

But the general level of mystery here is limited. He’ll either accept the job offer or not. We know that much. There are really only two choices.

Sure, there’s maybe a convoluted third choice – where he bargains for a different job at the same company, etc. But by and large the question raised is clear, and the answer can really only be one of two choices. Because of that, the audience already has a 50/50 shot of guessing correctly what the answer is going to be. This makes the method simple, but still very useful.

Mystery and Reveal Method

What’s that look like?

Here you establish a mystery, then reveal the answer.

Example: Who is the killer?

Now this mystery is established here in the form of a question – just like the question and answer method, but notice the answer is not a simple binary choice.

“Who is the killer?” actually has a near-unlimited number of possible answers. The killer could be anyone. This is what causes the mystery reveal method to feel more complex than the question and answer method.

You establish a mystery with an abundance of possible answers. The audience is left guessing as to who in the world the killer could be. They sit in that uncertainty looking for clues. Primed and ready to accept red herrings along the way. Then, when you’re ready, you reveal the true answer.

Establish a mystery, and eventually reveal the answer.

Unknown Surprise Method

Revealing the answer to a question that was never actually asked.

Example: A character busting into a room and announcing:

“I’m Moving to France!”

Boom. It’s like a slap in the face. It comes out of nowhere. It’s a complete surprise, but a revelation none the less.

This is the simplest form of a revelation because you weren’t building toward it in any obvious way. You just revealed information, with no set-up. And because there was no set up, the unknown surprise method tends to feel a bit false unless done just right. Be careful.

Each method can be used to different effect, go ahead and utilize what’s best for your story.

The different types of revelations:

Character Revelation

This is the most common type of revelation. This is when the revelation is specifically experienced from a character’s perspective. The character learns something new and so does the audience, at the same time.

Examples!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Harry is told by Hagrid that he is a wizard.
Batman Begins – Bruce Wayne learns the true identity of Henri Ducard.

Audience Revelation

The audience learns something that a character does not.

Examples!

The Lion King – the audience sees Scar intentionally kill Mufasa while young Simba is oblivious to this fact.
Iron Man – the audience learns that Tony’s friend Obadiah Stane is betraying him long before he does.

Character’s Self Revelation

Which, as we’ve seen with the character cubby, is an intimate part of a character’s arc. The character learns something about themselves and grows.

This type of revelation is more of a concern for your character cubby and plot cubby. But it’s still a revelation, so we’re bringing it up now.

Example!

The Matrix – Neo has the self-revelation that he is in fact “The One.” He never believed it before and the audience was kept in a limbo state of uncertainty, but now, as he rises from the dead, both he and the audience learn the truth.

Story Twist Revelation

This is where the revelation is so massive that it changes your entire perception of the story up until this point.

In fact this type of revelation is so massive and story-altering that we could just say the story’s title and you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about:

Fight Club or The Sixth Sense.

Audiences love a good mystery, it gets their mind racing, trying to solve the riddle that’s been laid out before them. It’s fun and mentally stimulating.

The interesting thing about a revelation line is that it can only truly be experienced the first time. Once you know the answer, the riddle is never the same.

The structure for your revelations looks a lot like your desire line and conflict line.

Have a major revelation for each act.

Set it up at the beginning of your act, spend the act building towards the reveal, then end the act with that reveal.

Notice that this set-up gives you the opportunity to try a few different types and methods of revelations throughout your story. Mix it up. Try not to use the same type of revelation each time.

Keep them guessing.

If your revelations are predictable, then they have failed on a fundamental level because they did not build intrigue. A failed revelation can seriously backfire – instead of sitting on the edge of their seats, your audience’ll be rolling their eyes.



World: The When and Where of Your Story

World

The world of your story has four traits to consider:

  • Location
  • Reality
  • Time Period
  • Duration

Location:

This is where your story takes place.

This could be as simple as a geographic location…

Does your story take place in the – Mountains? Jungle? Big city? Small town?

Or it could be more abstract…

Like “the world of underground cage fighting” or “the world of high fashion.”

Notice that these are “locations” that aren’t tied to a specific physical space. Instead, these are largely social “locations.” Both physical and social locations are important aspects of your story world. The similarities or differences between them can be used to great dramatic effect.

Once you establish a location…

You need to pair it with a metaphor.

Why?

Because different locations have different reputations. Different popular assumptions people make. For the sake of your story, you need to decide what you’re saying with your location. What’s your perspective. What context are you setting?

The world of high fashion could be portrayed as glamorous and whimsical, or as a grotesque and soulless wasteland.

You need the metaphor. You need to keep it in mind, in order to steer the rest of your depiction of the location and make sure it meshes with the rest of your cubbies.

Reality:

Normal Realities

Most stories exist within “normal” reality. Something akin to the world we know as we go about our day-to-day lives.

Fantasy Realities

Some stories make use of realities very different from ours. Perhaps magic is real, or it’s a civilization living in space, or a realm of talking chipmunks.

These realities can be much more challenging for a storyteller because they must be built from the ground up. Every difference between “normal” reality and the fantasy reality must be consistently and coherently established and demonstrated to your audience. That’s a challenge not to be taken up lightly.

These fantasy realities can be positive (think: Toy Story) or negative (think: The Terminator.)

Hyper Realities

This is where the story appears to take place in the normal “real” world, but in an exaggerated form. There are no wizards, but our main hero somehow consistently survives car crashes and explosions that should have killed him by now. Any James Bond or Die Hard film is a good illustration of this idea.

“Mad Libs” Realities

It’s a simple fill in the blank structure.

“The world is a: [fill in the blank].”

The world of Scott Pilgrim is a: video game.

In this particular case, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the reality of the story literally takes on the structure and conventions of most video games.

But let’s say you’re not doing anything generally crazy.

No magic, no talking animals, no sci-fi, no video games rules. Your story takes place in a normal reality and it’s pretty straight forward.

Well, in cases like this…

You still want to do work to give the world of your story its own identity.

“But I’ve already decided I don’t want anything crazy!”

That’s fine. There are more nuanced ways of creating a unique reality for your story.

You can give your characters social quirks or customs. Specific speech patterns or expressions.

Think: people saying “Whendya get here?” instead of “Hello,” or always giving hugs instead of handshakes.

These give your story’s world a specific identity. These quirks are not supernatural or magical, but they ARE specific choices. Choices the audience will see enacted with consistency. Choices that give your story’s reality a particular, memorable, identity.

You could also use the attitudes or beliefs of your characters to create a shared social reality. A social context that the story lives and breathes in.

Think: the ever present religiosity of a small town.

A story that takes place there, will be significantly different from one that takes place in an agnostic town devoted to materialism.

Time Period:

Culture, technology, and politics all change greatly from one generation to the next. Telling a story set in the 1850’s is vastly different from one set in the 1950’s. This has to be appropriately handled, or your story will lose all credibility and consistency.

Pay close attention to the details, do your research, and keep it authentic.

Duration:

Your story could span two hours, two days, or two hundred years. As the writer, you have to consider and incorporate the effect time has on a character.

You can’t try to pack too much change into a single day. And if your story is spanning a few decades, you have to account for the normal change that occurs with someone over that span of time.

When designing your story, you’ve gotta keep the time span in mind and adjust accordingly.

All of these elements need your attention when designing your story world.

Once you’ve decided the pieces of your world, then you can keep them consistent across the entire span of your story.

Or you can use the four acts to your advantage and assign different worlds to each act.

Utilizing a different primary location, or time period, or reality, for each act can really help differentiate the four acts of your story.

With the right overall design, it could take your story from average, to excellent.