Following a recent post by Oren, I started to wonder why elements that generate reader confusion/frustration are so often used for reveals (characters not questioning seemingly obvious problems or holes in the world, characters conveniently not thinking about “the thing”, etc).
Whenever I read a story with a giant worldbuilding or plot hole that the PoV characters don’t question, I get pulled out of the story because it appears the author hasn’t noticed such a glaring issue. When that hole is then used as part of a reveal later in the story, I just feel betrayed – it’s like the author thinks I’ll be impressed by their deception.
Considering how often I’ve encountered this issue in stories recently, I feel like twists/reveals are a current “must-have”, but are disingenuous reveals really worth it?
Hey Kel, great to hear from you again!
The short answer is no: a disingenuous reveal isn’t worth whatever benefit it provides. The good news is that if an author wants twists and reveals in their story, and not every author does, there are plenty of non-disingenuous ways to get them! But if that’s the case, then why are contrived and disingenuous reveals so common?
The most prominent reason is that building a good twist or reveal is hard, and authors often make mistakes. That’s what’s happening when you notice what appears to be a hole in the setting or plot, but the author later uses it for a reveal. The author simply didn’t realize that the gap was so noticeable.
For example, in the Star Wars prequels, a big question is why Anakin never went back to Tatooine to get his mom out of slavery. This seems to be a pretty serious plot hole, and then we see that Lucas is using it as an excuse for Anakin’s mom to die, which pushes him closer to the dark side. Lucas wasn’t creating a plot hole on purpose (probably); he simply didn’t realize how obvious it was that Anakin would have used his position as a Jedi to help his mom.
When it comes to meta mysteries, the “don’t think about” school of reveals, this is mostly down to authors not understanding the problem. The costs of a meta mystery are often subtle, so it’s easy for authors to conclude that they’re not a big deal, and they’re usually much easier than the correct way to build a reveal. We can only hope that as storytelling education slowly improves, this mindset will fade.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck finding better reveals!