Friday, October 19, 2012

PLOT TWISTS -- LOVE 'EM OR LEAVE 'EM?





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!


10 comments:

JB Lynn said...

Great post!

I love reading and writing twists. (And I love when readers write to say they like my twists.)

One of my favorite twists of all time is the final twist at the end of Turrow's PRESUMED INNOCENT. It took my breath away.

Wynter Daniels said...

I love great plot twists and I love it even more when I come up with a really surprising one in my writing.

Shirley Wells said...

I'm another who loves reading and writing twists. I love to be surprised, both by my own stories and other people's.

JB has reminded me of PRESUMED INNOCENT. Great film. The way he found those 'tools' in the garden was pure genius.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Great post, Julie. I love twists but I'm embarrassed to admit I've never seen or read Presumed Innocent. Now you've all got me curious!

Rita said...

I have to say Shutter Island had some big plot twists. I love that book for so many reasons. Lehane’s foreshadowing and getting the reader to like a character is brilliant. I never saw any of his twists coming.

Julie Moffett said...

I agree with everyone! Presumed Innocent is a great example of an unexpected plot twist and completely unexpected by most of the readers!! Shutter Island is another good one, too! :)

Jean Harrington said...

Julie, Yes, I love killing off a character. It's so mean, it's so heartless, it's so fun! And best of all it's SO effective.

My favorite plot twist of all time is from Jaye Eyre-- BTW,I was born the same year as Charlotte Bronte.The preacher is about to pronounce Rochester and Jane man and wife when Jane discovers Rochester is already married. True, it's to the mad woman in the attic. But what a shocker. At least it was when I read it at 15. Actually still is.



Anne Marie Becker said...

I love plot twists! They're such a challenge to write, but they often surprise me as a writer just as if I was reading them as a reader. Love when that happens.

Elise Warner said...

Love plot twists, Julie. Ever since we read O'Henry in school. Enjoy my characters twisting my intended plots too.

Wendy Soliman said...

Yep, me too. I'm a twister both in the writing and reading sense. I dislike predictability but if twists are too obvious, or I see them coming, it kind of puts me off the book. They need to be handled with kid gloves.