Kevan’s Question on REVERSAL
A personal note to Kevan:
Kevan, my most sincere apologies. I’ve lost your email address, but I am going to reply to the question here and hope you see it. (Please email and let me know you have so I can stop hunting for it.) Typically, I’m not so unorganized, but I’ve had medical issues with two family members and we all know what that can do!
REVERSAL© 2012, Vicki Hinze
What is a reversal in fiction, and how does a write use it to advantage?
A reversal is when something (character, plot) appears to be one thing, or going on way, and changes on a dime so that there’s a perspective shift and the reader (and characters) see that thing differently.
Let’s get more specific.
A reversal in character.
A character reversal would be like Colonel Foster in Acts of Honor. You think he’s a heartless, manipulating jerk. He puts the protagonist in the position of having to do something he knows she doesn’t want to do. If she refuses, a man dies.
During the course of the story, she comes to understand that if she succeeds, he gets to live and so does she—but only under specific conditions. (This sets up for the reversal. Where things look worse and not better.) That’s a commonality in employing a reversal in creative writing.
Later in the novel, an event occurs that flip-flops everything and turns the situation on it’s ear. What the protagonist and the reader believed to be true about him is true—but not for the reasons we both thought. (This reinforces the reversal so that it’s plausible when it occurs. We followed the Rule of Three. Established it, now we’re reinforcing it. And later in the book, we’ll enact it.)
Later still in the novel, a revelation occurs that causes a major perspective shift. We discover that the reason the colonel did what he did was to answer a question the protagonist has wanted answered for years and while the colonel had the answer, he couldn’t give it to her. He has enabled her to discover the answer herself—and this causes a major shift in how we see him.
For the majority of the book—until the last few pages—we don’t know if he’s good or bad. We go back and forth on our feelings about him. But at the point of the reversal, while there is still a question, there’s such a strong perception shift about him that we just can’t be sure we’ve tagged him right. He could be good or bad, working with or against her.—though not for any of the reasons we deemed. No, a new reason for his actions is revealed and it is one with even greater consequences.
Then, at the very end of the book, we discover which side of shift he falls on. The rationale is in place for the reversal, and it’s not a surprise but a sigh of relief that the reversal makes sense to us (the characters and readers).
So in short, a character reversal is when we perceive a character in one way and then discover that character is different from our perception. He can be better than we thought, or worse than we thought, but he’s definitely different than we thought. And yet when we learn his true nature, it’s plausible for him (and thus to the other characters and readers).
If you read Acts of Honor, or pull it off your bookshelf and read it following these points, the character reversal will be clear to you.
Another example is the male protagonist in Duplicity. Everyone, even his lawyer, thinks Captain Adam Burke is guilty of leading his men onto an active bombing range during a readiness exercise and causing their deaths and then abandoning them to protect himself.
There are two big character reversals (and plot reversals) in this book, and by its end, the other characters and readers see him very differently. The first is about him personally, and the second is about the depth of his character and the lengths he will go to live out his oaths (integrity reversal).
A plot reversal works pretty much the same way.
A character starts with a stated goal or objective, but due to events, a bigger goal or objective occurs and that character is forced to contend with it. An example of this is in Survive the Night.
In it, the protagonist begins the journey with a stalker. Her objective to out stalk the stalker however turns on a dime when a larger objective is revealed.
Now in this book, which is the first of three being released really close together, there is also a reversal that is known only to the reader. At the end of the first book, the conflicts appear to the characters to be resolved. But it is revealed to the reader that there is an additional conflict that will change the characters’ perceptions of events in the next book.
In that next book, the character confronts what the reader thinks is that plot reversal. And in part it is. At the end of that book, the character will believe that the conflict is resolved—and it is. Yet there is another challenge (plot reversal) revealed that tells the reader that the character is mistaken. And that mistake doubles the jeopardy to them all in the third book.
So a plot reversal is something that turns the plot on its ear. (In this case, multiple villains.)
And note that the characters might not be as up to speed on the reversal as the readers. Giving the readers an insight that the characters don’t have can be a wonderful surprise to readers—one that not only increases their interest in the next book, but that has them rereading this one to make sure what they thought happened is what happened. So it’s a bit of a mental pretzel that entertains the readers.
Another example of a plot reversal put simply is when the character wants to do something, does it, and then wishes s/he hadn’t because the outcome is the exact opposite of what s/he was after, or the outcome causes consequences that are in direct conflict with what the character wanted/needed/sought.
That’s the short-take on reversals.
If you have further questions, feel free to comment or email.
Hope this helps.