Technique of the Week: The Character Reveal

technique of the weekRESIZED

The major moments in cinematic history are almost always character reveals, from “Luke I am your father,” to the discovery of the identity of Kaiser Soze, to the infamous reveal in Fight Club.

Character reveals are different than plot twists because a plot twist plays off a viewer’s expectations, and a character reveal plays off a character’s backstory that is unknown to the audience until that point in time.

In order to make sure your reveals are organic, make sure to plant subtle hints throughout the entirety of your movie, and if possible, try and weave the reveal into the thematic fabric of the movie. The best character reveals make the audience say “Why didn’t I notice that?!” and should make complete sense on each subsequent re-watch.

Tips for This Technique

  • The later you choose to reveal information about a character, the better.
  • The best character reveals don’t invalidate everything that person has ever done. Instead, they explain the actions of this character, and make the plot clearer.
  • Some of the best character reveals seem to make the story world smaller by connecting characters through their backstory. Luke’s father is Darth Vader, and his sister is Leia. In Fight Club, Tyler Dearden and our protagonist are related in a way we won’t realize until the final twist.
  • Use character reveals to answer the question, “why does this character want to reach their goal so badly?”¬†Unearthing some secret from their path at a pivotal moment during the end of the second or third act will result in storytelling gold.

Character reveals are critical for disrupting the audience’s attempts to stay ahead of the plot. The moment you’re able to surprise your audience is the moment you’ve succeeded as a storyteller.

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