The Master Cleanse is a 15-minute dramedy created, according to the makers themselves, “to see if we could make a short and strip away all of our tricks, no action, no chase scenes, no fancy angles, or violence, and see if two people talking about universal relationship problems could be as compelling as an all girls high octane pillow fight.”
And it is a fun film, mostly because there’s a clever twist at the end. The plot twist hinges on a reveal about the main characters’ relationship, and is an example of something that I’ve been wondering about for a while: how can character development be subjected to the same boost of whizz-bang fun that a properly designed plot twist gives to a plot? As a writer, my weakest subject is character development, and my strongest subject is plot. My neverending quest, therefore, is a search to discover ways to make my characters as interesting as my plots.
The Master Cleanse provides an example of the classic character twist. This post will deconstruct the twist in depth, so I’ll hide the rest of the text in case you feel like watching the short film sans spoilers. (There’s crass language and an intentionally unappealing sex scene, if you need any incentive to keep reading without seeing the film)
The premise gives us a couple who are taking a “master cleanse,” i.e. drinking only a lemon-juice concoction for ten days to cleanse “the toxins out of [their] bodies.” They annoy each other more and more over the ten-day fast, and end up having a big fight over all their little irritations. The twist: they knew they would fight, because their master cleanse is a biannual event designed to clean the toxins out of their relationship as well as their bodies.
The twist is a pretty simple case of withheld information. After the revelation, we can look back on the story and see that they seemed unhealthy, but were really flushing out the problems for an ultimately healthy result. Not only that, but the friends that they talked to earlier — who recommended constant honesty but failed to tell their significant others the truth — were perfect foils for our protagonists. The protags’ character development is revealed to be different than the audience had assumed, but still matching perfectly with what was shown on the screen. A character twist must always keep the character consistent.
There’s a minor twist in the middle, too, where the guy appears to be stabbing himself in the leg as he listens to the gal talking about her knitting blog. He’s fantasizing, naturally, which allows for a nice segue into the girl getting annoyed that he isn’t listening. The daydream sequence is a risky twist to pull, since it’s cliche, but this scene is short and integrates with the fighting theme, so I like it.
I’m trying to rework my first draft of a fantasy adventure novel at the moment, and character development is my worst problem. Applying the character twist of withholding information, I can create a hero who appears to be avenging his father’s death despite his apathy towards the citizens he’s saving. When I reveal that he hates his father, too, it can be apparent that his actions are actually out of care for his citizens despite his father’s wishes. Drama! Yayy!