Plot twists have been a favourite in many genres, from mystery, to thriller, to general fiction. By creating a plot twist that successfully surprises the reader, the writer has done an excellent job of weaving a story, employing subtle distraction and made great use of misdirection. I will be showing you how to plan and write a plot twist of your own.
Let’s jump into it!
First, I do want to mention that this is part of a series of articles on writing a good book. We have covered some major parts of writing a book, from the plot to the characters, so be sure to check out early pieces as well on my website or on my podcast, which you can find on all major podcast platforms and YouTube.
Right, onto the first step!
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Planning a Plot Twist
The plot twist is best prepared way in advance. A plot twist made as a last minute decision is very easy to write poorly, making it either predictable or illogical or reading clearly as a last minute decision. By the same token, one can argue that planning a plot twist in advance can cause you to structure the story in such a way that you make it obvious there is a plot twist.
However, that simply shows poor planning.
Many books with their famous plot twists were written because of those plot twists in mind. If you want to write a good plot twist, take the time to plan it out. Lay down the clues, keep the reader guessing. In a novel, there is so much room for error, so many moving parts, that to construct a plot twist without giving it away becomes a real pain without proper planning.
If you have a plot twist in mind, you need to take your time to lay it out. Make it logical, that way when the reader looks back on the book they can make sense of it. Second, make it unexpected, which means none of the clues you laid out through the story must make it obvious there is a plot twist.
Third and finally, the more shocking, the more outlandish, the closer you skirt to the unbelievable, the better your plot twist. A great plot twist is one that has a great effect on the characters, the story and the reader. You want your reader to alter the way they think of certain characters.
These plot twists not only last, but the plot twist itself may become the most talked about part of your book, which would be fantastic!
Misdirection; How to Use it
Misdirection, a technique often employed by magicians in order to distract the audience. That way, the magician can swap hats or pull a new card from his sleeve without anyone being the wiser. Of course, for you as a writer, misdirection is employed to distract the reader from smaller details or to not really focus on them.
By no means am I suggesting you throw numerous details at the reader, where only one of the details is important. That is a slew of information that no reader will enjoy reading. Instead, it is better to be subtle. Distract them with something far more concerning, such as heated dialogue.
With the reader focused on something more important, you can mention a clue once, seemingly as nothing more than an additional detail. That way, it registers in the reader’s mind as something minor, perfect for you to call back on when you present your plot twist. That is the best way to use misdirection in your writing without having to weaken your style or content.
It’s an interesting way of writing, using misdirection. You are challenged to slip something intentional amongst writing you create on instinct. Irrelevant details are never thought of much, they are simply there to add to the scene. As a result, the way they are written is often different from the way we write important details.
It’s a challenge, but a minor one in the grand scheme of things.
Writing Red Herrings
Red Herrings are a far less subtle version of misdirection.
If misdirection can be compared to a distraction with one's hands or a flashy outfit, then red herrings are much like a small explosion or a puff of smoke to take attention away from the obvious. The whole time a reader thinks they are looking at the trick, they are simply looking at the distraction.
For example, as it often appears in mystery novels, there are a range of suspects. First, you will have the most obvious suspect and the least obvious suspect. The experienced reader will be more focused on the least obvious suspect, as they typically are the killer. However, mystery authors work so often red herrings that they turn it into an art form.
The reader soon discovers that the killer was none of the suspects, that the detective is to blame, or perhaps a kindly old lady found near the crime scene, or even the most obvious suspect all along, who simply cleared their name to make sure no attention was on them.
In other words, the best way to use a red herring in a plot twist is to develop a new plot twist, one more obvious, for the reader to be aware of. That way, when you reveal that fake plot twist to be a red herring, you can then reveal your real plot twist, surprising the reader. It takes some crafty writing, but it is certainly worth it.
If you feel your plot twist might be too easy to spot, or your clues stand out too much, then distracting your reader with a red herring is one solution!
Withholding Crucial Information
Of course, you need not go so far as to create an entire false plot to distract the reader. One of the more common methods to ensure your plot twist is secret is to simply withhold information.
Another staple for most mystery fiction is to not mention any clues or give any indications at all that there might be a twist. Simply tell the story that you have in mind from the perspective of a character who is presented with little information. As a result, the reader will see things that way and be as surprised as the main character when the plot twist is revealed.
Withholding information works in any genre as well. You can use it in science fiction, action adventure and so on. Sometimes, it is better for the reader to have no indication about the twist throughout the story, better for them not to look at the book in a new light. The story should always come first anyway, therefore the plot twist should appear much like the cherry on top. A nice treat, but certainly not the whole sundae.
Delivering a Plot Twist
The next and last challenge is the delivery of the plot twist.
Typically, most plot twists will be delivered through dialogue, as it allows the characters to discuss, make sense or explain the twist to each other, and thus the reader as well. Sometimes, it is better to be subtle in the reveal.
In which case, the reveal of a small detail that shocks the reader. For example, when a reader is following the exploits of a mastermind criminal, it would be quite a shock to discover their partner in crime carries a badge in their pocket, revealing them to be an undercover cop. A sense of betrayal will flood over the character and reader at this discovery.
However, the plot twist itself was subtle, without shouts or arguments. Quite simply, your delivery of a plot twist can be as bombastic as the red herrings you created or they can be as subtle as the misdirections. Once more, you might already have a good idea of how the reveal will go.
It pays to take time when constructing the scene of the reveal, much like the construction of your plot. Take your time in the beginning stages of your planning to create and develop a plot twist delivery to be remembered.
With that, this article on writing a good plot twist has come to an end. I hope you are enjoying this weekly series on writing a good book and I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Plot twists are a big feature in most writing, as it helps readers and writers break away from the set formulas that make up fiction today.
Of course, by that same token, end up creating a new mainstream formula for writers to follow.
Personally, I enjoy plot twists, but not as much as ambiguous endings. I find those the most impactful, the feeling lasting much longer after a story has ended. It leaves the reader to make their own conclusion, which is often tough, especially if neither of the conclusions are happy ones.
Let me know what you think!
Thank you for reading and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy writing!