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Tips for Writing Great Plot Twists

Great advice from C S Lakin

When it comes to stories, everyone LOVES a good twist. Whether this is in a movie, short story, or a novel audiences LOVE to be fooled.

The greatest compliment any story can earn?

I never saw that coming  

How did I NOT see that coming?

The challenge for the writer is to craft twists that are both unexpected and believable. Ah, there’s the rub. How can your twists be believable if they’re unexpected?

Expect the Unexpected

Often, the trick is to set up hints, or foreshadowing, in earlier scenes, so that when the truth of the twist is discovered, your reader won’t get mad because they feel cheated or tricked. Having a new character show up at the climax to save the day for the hero will do just that.

No setup, no believability (and no satisfaction on the reader’s part).

For Every Action There’s a Reaction

Your twist needs to be written with your readers’ reaction in mind. Do you want to shock them? Scare them? Make them angry? Keep that emotion at the forefront when crafting your twist.

If you start with the “expected,” the believable, then you can work from there. Keep these points in mind:

Twists need to escalate the story.

Meaning, they shouldn’t be thrown in for no good reason (other than to surprise the reader). The stakes for your story need to be impacted by the twist.

The story must be able to stand on its own without the twist.

For example, if Dr Crowe in The Sixth Sense wasn’t really dead, the story would still be a fascinating study of a therapist trying to help a very troubled and gifted boy (not as great, but the story would hold up).

The twist shouldn’t trick your reader.

Avoid cliché’s and gimmicks. Keep it real.

Tips to Twist

Remember: The Perfect Twist is Believable, Yet Unexpected 

Step One:

Think about a milestone event in your story. For example, your hero needs to find where a hostage has been taken.

Step Two:

Now, make a list of 5-10 possible, believable scenarios. Your hero overhears a conversation, giving him a tip. Your hero spots someone in a car he thinks is one of the kidnappers. Your hero’s partner calls and gives him the address.

Step Three:

Once you have your list, make a new list for each believable scenario. This list is all the ways you could possibly misdirect. The overheard conversation could be fabricated by the bad guy specifically to misdirect your hero.

Or it could be he wrongly assumes who was speaking, and the tip is a dead end. Or the tip is valid, but it’s a trap, so that when your hero arrives, he’s attacked. Or the partner was misled or coerced.

Step Four:

Come up with all kinds of ideas, crazy and logical. Sometimes the crazy idea, with a little work, is the best. But, again, it has to be believable. If a character is going to flat-out lie, he needs to be the kind of character who would do that. Or if not, he needs a very good reason to lie—perhaps someone is holding a gun to his daughter’s head.

TA-DA! TWIST!

Once you’ve come up with some great twists, think of how to go back through earlier scenes and put in not-so-obvious bits to prepare for the twist.

If you are going to have a surprise character be the killer at the end of your mystery, you’ll need a half-dozen or so moments, at minimum, in your story with that character, setting up subtle hints as to her nature, interests, and behaviour that will make your readers say at the end, “Oh, of course!” and still be delighted that they didn’t figure it out.

I never saw that coming

How did I NOT see that coming?

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