I love to be surprised when I’m reading. Unexpected twists and turns in a story thrill me- so long as they’re crafted in the right way. But how does one go about crafting a plot twist? You might think that’s easy, all you have to do is throw something totally random or out of the blue at the readers. Well, actually, you can do that, but it’s better if you don’t, and I can tell you why, and a few pointers for making a good plot twist.
So for starters, a plot twist should never be totally unexpected. The reader should always have some inkling, no matter how small, that the twist was coming. Surprise is a good thing, shock and anger at an unforeseen character death or change in the story’s direction is not. But isn’t the point of a plot twist to have shock value? Yes and no. You see, what a writer must do while crafting a plot twist, is to not just come up with it on a whim, but have it in mind from the beginning of the story and then drop hints all the way through the story that the plot twist is coming. This is called foreshadowing.
Now, the flipside of this is that you can’t be too obvious with your hints. Subtly is key, and it is a fine line to walk that requires trial and error, and most likely someone else reading your work to tell you if the plot twists work. So plot twists should be in your reader’s mind, but they should be subconscious. The hints need to be there, but the pieces of the puzzle shouldn’t fit together until the final twist is revealed.
For instance, I was reading a book recently called The Paradox Initiative, where it was obvious that one of the main characters was a time traveler. What was not obvious and not revealed until near the end of the book, was where he had originally come from. The author (Alydia Rackham) had given hints the whole way through, by using the character’s mannerisms and reactions to certain situations, to hint at when he might be from, but it was impossible (for me, at least) to guess the scope of his experiences and time travel adventures. That is good foreshadowing and plot twist weaving; you can guess certain things by the context of the story and the character’s actions, but don’t guess the final, big twist until it is revealed to you.
My short story I’m writing for this class is, in fact, involved in a plot twist within the metanarrative that is contained in my books. I can’t give you the details of it, of course, for that would spoil the twist, but I can tell you a few things about it. It’s layered, meant to continue as a twist through several of my future books. It’s also ironic and a little funny, or sad, if that’s how you take it. Because plot twists ought to appeal to reader’s emotions too, you know, and not just shock. Twists can cause pain, joy, excitement, fear, but they must make the reader feel something.
Surprise, but not total shock, and emotion. If you can cause these things for your readers, then you are on your way to having a good plot twist.