Everyone loves a good plot twist – and by good, I mean effective. The kind that sucks usually involves details and ideas with little to no foreshadowing. Bad plot twists might also be what I like to call “vanity moments” where the story goes totally off the rails just for shock value. So don’t do that, like you might see in clichés HERE. What you should do, is think about what would make you gasp and throw the book across the room. You know, in a good way – unless you purposely want to piss off your reader.
This week, I’m outlining my tried-and-true steps to designing plot twists that everyone will want to talk about but won’t. You know, because spoilers. And no one likes people who spoil things.
1. Decide which portion of the story would best fit a plot twist.
Maybe there’s a character that isn’t quite fleshed out enough but shows potential. If there’s room to add depth to their personality, that’s likely a great place to get frisky with the plot twists. Flat characters, although in need of more development, offer the unique opportunity to add something new with minimal risk of inconsistency.
Or perhaps there’s a scene that you’ve been putting off writing because it feels too boring or difficult. Adding a plot twist in that part of the story will make it intriguing for you and the reader – that’s a win-win. Whether you end up teasing out a twist based on a scene, setting, or character, identifying the best place to insert it is crucial.
2. Imagine yourself as the reader – what would catch you off guard?
Everyone always says to write the story you’d want to read, and it’s so true! If you don’t even like what you’re writing, what makes you think anyone else will? But don’t give up – just use this revelation as your motivation to kick your creativity into high-gear. Maybe your character is the long-lost sister of the villain, and they have to figure out how that happened while also saving the world from an even bigger threat. I know that’s a cheesy example, but I mentioned it because it does two important things. Firstly, it adds depth to your existing characters and opportunities to add complicated nuances to their goals and personalities. And secondly, it opens up the plot to grow past even the limits expressed in the synopsis. Both of these results are important and will help you a lot.
3. Foreshadow more than you think you need to.
Don’t get confused about what I said above – you do want some shock value. But everything you do is set by the precedent you create in earlier parts of the book. The best plot twists, in my opinion, hedge their logic on one tiny seemingly unimportant detail meant for the reader to overlook at the time. But later, when all is revealed, you want the reader to think back to that moment and remember “oh, I had no idea that would matter later!” If you can get them to hold onto something just long enough to dismiss it before you drop the surprise later – you’ve won the plot twist game. And if you play your cards right, you may have also won another reader as well.
As far as the amount of foreshadowing you should do, that really is determined by your voice and genre. There’s no straight answer for this, but I do think this is best determined by beta readers. If you can get friends and family to read early drafts of your book, ask them later if they saw it coming. If they didn’t, you’ll know you need to add more hints or exaggerate existing ones. Either way, this is priceless insight.
I’m the worst about keeping them a secret – in my recent book, I spilled a major one to friends while I was writing it. But that’s okay – because then those friends were able to tell me if everything made sense. Consult your beta readers as needed. At the end of the day, make sure whatever plot twist you choose leaves a mark on your story – and your readers.