Last week, I talked about making promises to readers from Chapter 11 of Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules, by Steven James. Today, I’m going to talk about plot twists.
James says there are four elements to all plot twists, and in our writing, we should include them all: 1) unexpected, 2) inevitable, 3) an escalation of what preceded it, and 4) a revelation that adds meaning to what has already occurred. Pg. 132 Click to Tweet
Inevitable and Surprising
“Inevitable: There is only one possible conclusion to the story. It’s believable to readers, and when they get to it, they see that everything in the story up until then has been pointing toward that ending, rather than the one they were predicting and anticipating. Great twists are more than just believable; they are, in retrospect, the only possible ending to that scene, act, or story.” Pg. 133
“Surprising: It’s a conclusion that readers don’t see coming but that ends up not only being reasonable but more logical than any other possible ending. It’s an ending free of gimmicks, one that both shocks and delights even the most discerning reader.” Pg. 133
“A twist doesn’t just move the story forward; it unravels it and then rethreads it at the same time, giving more meaning to it. Readers find out that the story is deeper, richer, and more multilayered than they ever imagined.” Pg. 134
“Turn expectations on their head. At first you’ll play to those expectations, so readers will think they know where things are going. Then, suddenly, you’ll turn those expectations against them to create the twist.”
I have a plot twist in “Meghan’s Choice” regarding Meghan and Doctor Scott Allison. I can’t reveal it, and I can’t take credit for it. My mentor DiAnn Mills, gave me the idea, and it’s resolution. Let’s just say there is blackmail involved.
On page 139-140, James reveals five types of plot twists: 1) Identity, 2) Awareness, 3) Complexity, 4) Peril, and 5) Cleverness
“Your protagonist (or your reader, or both) realizes he’s not who he thought he was…” Maybe she’s insane, maybe she’s in someone else’s dream, maybe he’s a monster. “This discovery could come at the beginning of the story, setting it up for a redemptive ending or at the climax, creating a dramatic plunge at the end…”
“The world isn’t what your protagonist thought it was. He’s not on Earth, he’s on another planet, or he thinks he’s arrived in heaven in the afterlife, but discovers he’s really in hell.”
“The heist, confidence game, or sting operation has a whole level of intrigue that wasn’t evident throughout the story.” Maybe the hero knows something about the bad guys we don’t. “Curiosity about how things will move forward drives readers to keep reading.”
“The real danger isn’t where you though it was.” The hunter is the hunted, the spy’s partner is a double agent, the protagonist’s daughter is a terrorist. These are ideas to get your creative juices going.
Now this is a funny way of saying it, but “the detective (or villain) was really one step ahead of the villain (or detective) the whole time and has set a trap that the other guy, and readers, didn’t see coming.” (Remember, the detective must solve the crime before readers do, or they’ll think they’re smarter than he is.)
- Where do I need to shade the details and foreshadowing so the twist is the most credible, inevitable ending to my story?
- What clues or evidence do I need to include to make the story stand on its own without the twist?
- Is the story improved by the twist? In other words, is it richer and more meaningful? If not, how can I construct the twist so that it adds depth to the story?
- How can I use this twist to both turn the story on its head and move it in a more satisfying direction?
Here are a few more tips:
- Create multiple worlds of inevitability
- Turn expectations on their head
- Eliminate the obvious
- Redirect suspicion
- Avoid gimmicks
- Write toward your readers’ reaction.
How do you create plot twists? What are some of your favorite plot twists you’ve either seen in a movie or read in a book? Leave a comment and let me know.