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.
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:
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.
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.
The audience learns something that a character does not.
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.
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.
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.