To twist or not to twist, that’s the question. The answer depends on what you like to write or read.
As a writer, I love creating plot twists. I don’t want my story to be staid or predictable, especially when there is a mystery to solve. To accomplish that, I enjoy putting my characters in difficult situations. I like when things happen to shake them up, force them to think on their feet and outside the box. I like that plot twists usually create problems, sometimes seemingly insurmountable ones. After all, that’s the idea.
Now, putting the shoe on the other foot… As a reader, I like to read plot twists. I always get a little thrill when there’s a plot twist that takes the story in a direction I’m not expecting. This doesn’t mean there aren’t terrific stories out there that don’t have any plot twists. There are many such novels and I like to read those, too. I call those kinds of books my “comfort” reads. I’ll sit with one of those stories when I’m not in the mood to be thrilled, shocked or held to the edge of my seat. However, in most cases, I happen to be very fond of plot twists in both the books I write and read.
Is there a secret to writing plot twists? Not really. Many are individual or unique to the story itself. But there are a few guidelines. The most effective plot twists are those that are generally unexpected. An event that happens out of nowhere, but still ties into the plot. An action that is feasible within the world you’ve created, but something the reader did not quite anticipate.
Good techniques to accomplish a plot twist are causing something to happen at an inconvenient time in the story. For example, the serial killer is revealed as the hero’s uncle just as the hero is about to propose to the heroine. Now the hero isn’t sure the heroine would marry him, so he doesn’t ask her as the reader expects, and instead, goes to hunt down the uncle. Another technique is to shake up the characters themselves. A formerly “good” character goes “bad”. Or the “black sheep” character unexpectedly turns good, just in time to save the heroine/hero (i.e. remember Han Solo at the end of Star Wars?).
Still another technique used often by mystery and suspense writers is to cause an unexpected death. Kill off a character. Make it quick, sudden and shocking. An unexpected death is a good way to heighten the tension, move the plot along, and cause a plot twist that completely shifts the direction of the story.
Do you like plot twists? Is there a particular plot twist in a favorite novel that stands out as particularly memorable? Inquiring (and shifty) minds want to know!