Crisscross Applesauce: How to Pull Off a Plot Twist

            Crisscross Applesauce by Ashley Flaws is a story from Periphery 55 and can be found in the archives as well as the story of the week.  This post will be talking about how the story uses plot twists and foreshadowing.  If you have not read the story I would recommend that you do so before reading this.  You have been warned.  The Periphery Blog is a blog about writing, narrative, art, and everything in between.

            Crisscross Applesauce is the kind of story that made an editor get up on a table and shout about when it was first discussed before the Periphery staff.  It is the kind of story that sucker punches you in the gut on the fourth page; M. Night Shyamalan would weep hot tears that this wasn’t his idea.  Beneath the talk of Barbies and triple scoops of ice cream lays something dark, and I love it for that.  What I want to talk about this week is how Crisscross Applesauce uses foreshadowing and why its plot twist works. 

            To me, the beauty of Crisscross Applesauce is how effortlessly it misdirects from the plot twist.  The quick succession of names on the first page of the story, of the girl’s Barbies, of the principle and school teacher, keeps a reader from focusing on the fact that you never get the main character’s name.  I didn’t realize the name is never given until much later in the editing process of edition 55 than I would like to admit.  That is how perfectly Crisscross Applesauce misdirects. 

            The most effective way Crisscross Applesauce misdirects is by framing the story from the perspective of a troubled child.  Details about a “Cool trick off the swing” to make her mother smile, or fantasizing about what it must be like to be seventeen, not only attach the reader to the main character, but stop them from picking up on what is really going on.  They also drown out the other details that could point the reader in the right direction like, “We have matching pigtails braids and the same pink dress on”  The framing also makes readers think differently of details that would otherwise hint at the twist.  Details such as how the twins have to “Talk really loud because Mom and Dad are yelling downstairs” makes the reader worry about the girls and their home life, long after it becomes apparent that her parents are yelling about her mental health.  As a first-time reader, I was much more concerned about the parent’s fight and how it affected the twins, than what the fight was about.  Flaws does a wonderful job of showing how much the fighting disturbs ‘the twins’ and making me care about that, rather than the hints put into the conversation. 

            From the first line of the story, the identity of the ‘twins’ is construed.  “I talk too much, that’s what my sister, Cali says”  The first thing the reader knows is not the name of the point-of-view character, but her sister.  Also From that line, the only thing the reader knows about the speaker, is what her sister thinks of her.  Immediately, the identity of both of characters is intertwined.  On top of that, little hints like how Flaws describes the girls playing with their dolls: “I saw him. He looked nice,” Cali makes Susie say” have an entirely different meaning when the main character makes Cali makes Susie say.  Early foreshadowing cements the twist in the story, making it seem more real and earned. 

            These details, of Cali crying and the speaker consoling her, become incredibly worrying, once the twist is revealed.  Most importantly, they don’t simply reframe the story in a new context, but shows the interiority of the main character.  That second point, of having a plot twist do something more than shock, is a key part of plot twists that is often forgotten.  A twist should be shocking, but it also should do something more than that.  Returning to our friend M. Night Shyamalan, the reason why the twist in The Sixth Sense is so good, is because it not only reframes the entire story, but the conversations between Cole and Malcolm show how Cole is caring about spirits, and gives insight into how Malcolm is unable to accept his own death  The twist gives great insight into both characters rather than simply shocking the viewer.  Crisscross Applesauce does the same thing.  Through Cali, the reader can understand how the main character is disturbed about her parents yelling.  The conversations between Cali and the main character show the internal resilience of a child, and how it can go wrong.  The twist also sheds light on a dysfunctional family, and how parents struggle to help their children. 

            Looking back at Crisscross Applesauce I wonder how many people figured out the twist before it was revealed.  I wonder if Flaws was laughing the whole time while writing this piece because she would be playing her reader like a fiddle.  I went from concerned to sympathetic to worried to horrified in the span of less than 1800 words. 

            Quentin Tarantino said in a 2005 interview about his movies, “I want to play you as an audience.  I want to be the conductor and you’re my orchestra.  There are sounds that I make you to make, and feelings I get you to feel, then I stop you from feeling those feelings, then I stop you from feeling that, and make you feel something else yet again.  If a director call pull that off, that is a real lucky audience member”  That is specifically what Flaws did in Crisscross Applesauce, and I’m still not over it. 

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