Day 15 – How to Write Plot Twists

Let’s explore plot twists in depth.

Hi everyone!

Today I want to talk about everyone’s favorite point in a novel – the plot twist. Whether you’re a reader, a writer, an author, a movie-goer or a television watcher, you’re familiar with the plot twist. Everything is going perfectly fine (or at least, in the same, expected direction) and then suddenly, a key component of the story is spun on it’s head. This forces the reader/viewer to adapt or even change their opinions about a character, event, or challenge.

I like to split plot twists into three categories.

  1. The ‘Expected’ Plot Twist – You saw this one coming, you knew that suave man who was the super helpful guard in books one and two was secretly in on something. Was it the hair? The extra kindness? The fancy armor when everyone else was wearing plain old steel? IronTributeIllo3_08_16_15

How to write it: Drop hints books, chapters, or even a page or two before hand. But it’s not much of a plot twist if it’s too obviously advertised. The best ones make you go back and reread chapters or parts of books and go “OH NOW I KNOW WHAT HE WAS THINKING THEN.” Also, this one requires some planning. I like to use google docs, because then I can go back or ahead and see where the story is going to drop hints. It’s never wrong to go back earlier into your draft to add hints as well, just remember to make them seem natural.

2. The ‘Unexpected’ Plot Twist – If you read George R. Martin’s novels, this is essentially half of the events in these books. The surprise death of a beloved/closely followed character, the completely shocking reveal of a character’s lovelife or history.

How to write it: Don’t drop hints, but ensure that what happens is plausible AND moves the plot along. I think the plausible part here is the most important. You must set the stage properly in order to ensure that a twist takes full effect. It’s why the death of Edard Stark is so surprising. Everyone is expecting him to be publicly forgiven, so his execution at the hands of a new king is shocking. But the scene is set – unpredictable ruler, opportunity to make a public display of power/authority, etc., and it definitely moves the plot along. Another example (SPOILER ALERT) in the movie Hardcore Henry, the ending makes you rethink the ENTIRE series of events, which in turn leaves you questioning quite a lot of things.

3. The ‘Shock’ Plot Twist – Did we really need to know so-and-so is gay in the middle of a battle scene? Is it critical that we find out Darell is allergic to eggs, but only on his 8th birthday? Should you kill off a bunch of characters in a bomb blast, then make nothing of it later?

How to write it: Don’t. Please Don’t. A plot twist is a vehicle for change in the novel. All the above situations could easily be improved and turned into major plot changes or twists, but only if they actually impact the story. Otherwise they’re wasted words and events. Stories that have these random events don’t flow properly, meaning the reader can’t get enmeshed in the story. If your plot twists are just for shock’s sake, but don’t improve your characters or the story, then why include them?

I hope this has been helpful! If you’ve got any ideas on plot twists, drop me a line in the comments below!

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Author: Daniel Ottalini

Author of the Award-Winning Steam Empire Chronicles Series

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