TV Tropes Day: The Shocking Swerve

Tweet of the Day- Pen and Paper: Better than All Things Digital


“Think of it this way: if Russo was managing the local Pizza Hut, you’d order a pizza and they’d deliver a newspaper. Sure, it was a surprise, but it didn’t make much sense, nor did you want to order from them again. But it sure fooled you, didn’t it?”

R.D. Reynolds on Vince Russo’s writing style, from the book Wrestle Crap
Depending on the viewer, many twists, including several Cylon identity revelations in the later episodes of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series may fall under this trope. Naturally, one viewer’s Shocking Swerve may be another one’s Wham Episode

Seth Green: “Wow! Ron Moore! Creator of Battlestar Galactica. How about letting us come aboard and help you with your whip-smart plots?”
Ron Moore: “Help? Why would I need help writing plots? I just throw a dart at the cast list and *boom*: they’re a Cylon. Rinse, repeat, cash the frakking check. Watch…(Moore throws several darts at a board with cast member photos taped to it)…(mocking) oh, please help me, this is so hard!”


Or the reason BSG was not the best show on television.

A clear sign of lazy writing.

A Hail Mary pass when you’re alone on the field.

The most common object found (and pulled out) of a Hollywood writer’s posterior.

First cousin to the little demon inside the machine.

God I hate these!

As you can guess both by the links (I’ll wait until you come back, okay?) and the quote above, a shocking swerve happens when a writer tries to surprise the audience just for the sake of shocking them (like a teenager momentarily swerving in an empty high way to scare their friends). And it is just that stupid.

Some are rather harmless. A twist involving a minor character or even that while interesting will not go beyond the confines of a subset of the audience (those that crowd fan based forums for example). But when you based an entire book, series or movie on it, you better pack it in or go the Michael Bay route and stuff the project with a lot of explosions, just in case.

It is made worse because in order to maintain the shock value, the writers absolutely refuse to reward smart members who figure out the obvious points in the plot. Instead they reach down (and in) their posteriors and pull things that are illogical, contradictory and (again) plain stupid.

The reason for this is simple. The most basic hook in any story boils down to “what happens next?” So these writers believe that if you keep the audience guessing about everything then they will keep watching. Alas, the other side of the coin is that the audience expects answers.





Within the context of the story. They don’t mind that the heroes saved the day by using magic, if a) that is part of the narrative , b) it was properly foreshadowed. But pulling a deux machina for the sake of surprising the audience is no way to go. In fact, the creators of these types of shows (the crew behind Lost, Ron Moore and yes you Grant “Ego” Morrison) go on to say that no they never had the answers to begin with because they never had them to begin with.

So you violate a basic promise (and premise) made to the audience, that their questions will be answered and instead string them along from one “surprise” moment to the next.

Just don’t do it.

If you have any pride in your work, or for that matter a shred of integrity, just don’t do it.

If you do, I reserve the right to punch you in the face, in public.

My lawyers can settle with your lawyers later.


6 comments on “TV Tropes Day: The Shocking Swerve

  1. At the same time, though, there is a place for letting the story surprise you. As a discovery writer, I’ve found that if I plan things out too rigidly, it will completely fall apart somewhere in the middle, or end up being too predictable.

    Usually, I’ll start with a general idea of how things are going to end, but leave enough room for the characters to be themselves and take the story in different directions. And sometimes, if things seem a little too predictable, I’ll purposefully throw in something completely unexpected and then find a way to justify it, either by going back and foreshadowing better or by altering the story so that the random element has a place.

    None of these are necessarily huge twists, but they do involve surprising myself by pulling out something I never expected to happen. The trick is to make it work, through formatting, story structure, character development, etc.


    • I’m a discovery writer as well, and characters surprise me all the time. But I believe it is better to build on what you have rather than try cheap tricks to entice your audience. They deserve better.


  2. Grant “Ego” Morrison. Bwah-hah-ha-ha-hah. That is so cruel, but very true at the same time – I have a lot of time for his work on Animal Man, Doom Patrol and The Invisibles, but his more traditional superhero tales fall flat for me. I suppose it has something to do with the general lack of respect I have for mainstream comics, but there are as many people who love the long-underwear brigade who seem to have similar concerns.


    • He is a good writer, but his willingness to say “Frack it! I’m taking a dive on the shallow end of the swimming pool and you lot can piss off while I’m at it!” just ticks me off to no end.

      Of course, he is not Joe Quesada, who millions of fans have a “punch on sight” permit because of his excessive executive meddling and “I know better than you” attitude.


  3. Loved the tweet of the day – I have notebooks all over the place. 🙂

    I can’t recall ever reading a book with “the Shocking Swerve”, but I totally agree that BSG was NOT the best show on television. It was more like the most disappointing show on television. If it had been a book I’d have thrown it across the room and stomped on it.


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