Writing Tip 29: Plot Twists

brown rope tangled and formed into heart shape on brown wooden rail

What is a plot twist?

A plot twist is a writing technique that introduces a turn of events in the story. This drastic change in the plot of a novel can make or break your story.

Authors use plot twists to take readers on a roller coaster ride of emotions. When used correctly and effectively, readers are surprised (hopefully in a good way) which keeps them engaged in the story.

Plot twists are a great way to level up your story by adding suspense, thrill, humor, anger, or [insert any other emotion here] to make your story that much memorable.

4 Plot twist writing techniques

1. Sneaky Wow Factor.

When your readers at the end of your story are left with the “Wow, I didn’t expect that to happen factor.”

I love these types of ending because I get so enthralled into the story that I missed subtle clues that the author provided throughout the story while I was reading. Usually in these types of endings the reader is engaged to go back into the book to reread chapters where those clues were probably missed.

Often times, I find myself making mental notes while I’m reading or after I’ve read the book to piece together clues as the characters are going through it. This kind of makes me feel as if I’m the detective and it makes me more engaged within the story. Oh and it also makes me pay more attention to the book as it makes it even difficult to put the book down.

The best way to get this done correctly is to foreshadow the twist by sprinkling clues throughout the story. This makes the story believable and it’s not a bad punch to your readers face when they get hit with the dark truth.

2. Red Herring

Who doesn’t love to read books where you’re led to believe that one person is the evil mastermind behind the entire story. We grow to hate this character and wish death upon them. We are convinced that we have the villain cornered at the peak of the climax when things are about to go down and then [cue dramatic music] it turns out that sweet Mary Sue was the villain the entire time. [Gasp].

The term red herring refers to a distraction that is irrelevant or better yet unimportant thats introduced to divert attention in another direction.

In literature, a red herring is often times (if not always) seen in the most obvious character. A red herring is not a difficult trait to give a character, the trick is to make them seem so believable that readers truly believe that the red herring is the perpetrator until revealed otherwise.

Although, the book is better than the movie, Agatha Christie did an excellent job at taking readers through a roller coaster of dips, turns, ups, and downs with twists at every turn in her classic book Murder on the Orient Express. Which I highly recommend reading.

The best way to redirect readers into choosing the red herring is to make him or her the most hated and the real villain or as lovable as possible. You can add suspicion, misunderstandings, doubts, and confusion surrounding the red herring.

3. The Twist That Keeps on Twisting.

Think about Red Riding Hood. I know there’s several versions of this story and I’m sure that this one is probably floating out there. But let’s pretend for this example. Okay, well let’s say that after the Hunter saves Red Riding Hood from the Big Bad Wolf we see the Hunter leave carrying the dead Wolf; while Grandma and Red are enjoying the basket of goodies that Red’s mother prepared for Grandma. Then as Red is helping with the dishes out of nowhere two wolves (the Wolf’s brothers) who just so happen to be waiting for the Big Bad Wolf to bring food for the pack around the bend shows up to the house. They see a blood trail leading to the forest where the Hunter walked off carrying the Wolf and both Red and Grandma are alive. They conclude that their brother is dead and go inside the home. Now that the Hunter is gone and there’s no one to save them from not one but two wolves what are Red and Grandma to do?

This could be the beginning to another scene which escalated the story. This adds another twist to the plot because now Red and Grandma are placed in a tough situation. Readers where led to believe that the the Hunter resolved the issue but in reality the real danger was just a few scenes away.

4. Unprovoked plot twist.

Many good and great books contains plot twists that readers anticipate. For example, The story of the Three Little Pigs. The author presents three pigs who must built a house for themselves to live and protect them from their predator the Wolf. I just realized that I just used another classic story with a Wolf. I apologize but this story is widely known, I don’t have to explain the entire plot in detail, and I’m not ruining the ending, so bare with me.

So each Pig builds their home from different materials. One builds it from straws, the other sticks, and the last bricks. Obviously, readers know that with the first two homes the Wolf encounters would not sustain his blows. Therefore, there’s not a real twist other than the way the author presents the conflict.

However, if the author wants to create a new plot twist to the Wolf story then a great way would be if the first home the Wolf tried to blow down is the brick home and he doesn’t succeed but then after trying three times the door opens. When he enters the home, he sees three white doors each numbered in Roman numerals with instructions for each door. Each door leads to a pig but he must choose only one door. The story could then be the Wolf going through a series of adventures, meeting new animals, and ultimately realizing that the Pigs are actually in danger and he’s the only one who could save them.

This new turns of events makes the story have an unprovoked plot twist because the characters and the readers did not anticipate this new plot twist to the story.

A plot twist is a great way to keep readers surprised, engaged, and maintain the story juicy.

Let me know of other plot twists that you have used or plan to use in the comments.

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