Wow, I did not see that coming! A good plot twist will leave your readers surprised, intrigued, and eagerly anticipating where the story will go next. But writing unforgettable plot twists isn’t easy. You need to be able to misdirect your audience in a way that feels natural to the storyline. At Writer’s Relief, we’ve had thousands of stories cross our desks over the years—so we know how a well-written plot twist can boost a book’s or short story’s odds of success. Here’s how to write plot twists that your readers will enjoy.
9 Tips To Help You Write Clever, Effective Plot Twists
Use plot twists sparingly. A good twist is always a thrilling addition to any story, but having too much of a good thing can make it difficult to follow the action. If the butler is really the murderer is really the doctor—is really triplets!—your reader will become exhausted trying to keep track of all the curves and turns. You don’t want to confuse your readers and have them lose interest. Only use plot twists when they can pack the biggest punch.
Tie plot twists to character development. Making your twist pivotal for a character will give it the most impact. Start by developing your characters throughout the story. Lay your characterization down as a good foundation, then tie in your plot twist to throw things off in a compelling way. You might choose to kill off an important character and have the survivors deal with the blindsiding aftereffects. Or, you might elevate a minor character and reveal that this person plays a bigger role behind the scenes.
Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. When you’re writing a plot twist, keep in mind how you would receive it as a reader. Did your big reveal come out of the blue, or was it a culmination of little clues that finally make sense? The function of a plot twist is to move the story forward and keep your readers turning the page—not to simply insert the most shock value.
Avoid cliché twists. Thinking of having your hero’s mentor die just before the climax? Or is the villain a trusted ally who’s really a double agent? We’ve read these clichéd plot twists a billion times before. If you’re going to use a well-worn plot twist, put your own unique spin on it. Maybe the mentor dies while trying to kill the hero! Or perhaps that double-crossing ally isn’t just on the team, but is the leader’s trusted best friend.
Use misdirection. Like a good magician, skilled writers direct their audience’s eye away from what’s really happening. Veil your big twist behind fancy curtains and shiny mirrors, then tear it all away to show the audience what they were missing all along.
Introduce foreshadowing. Be sure to leave hints that build up to your big plot twist. Readers enjoy finding clues throughout the story, putting the pieces together, and seeing the fruition in the revealed plot twist. But don’t be too obvious: The suspense is part of the fun! Leave a trail of bread crumbs, not entire loaves of bread.
Build tension. Raise the stakes, build the pressure, keep the momentum going, and your plot twist will hit even harder. When your readers are invested in your characters and your plot, the plot twist will blow them away.
Freewrite your twist and let your characters take control. Sometimes, if you try to be too clever, you overthink the secrets and big reveals that would make your short story or novel riveting. When this happens, it’s good to let the characters roam free and see where they take you. If you have written them well enough, your characters can create the plot twist for you!
Earn it. A plot twist that isn’t somehow earned will feel clumsy. Don’t kill off characters simply for shock value or add a last-minute traumatic backstory to justify the twist. Make sure that the death or event has a sense of belonging. It’s okay to throw a wrench into what was, until then, the crossed T’s and dotted I’s of a happy ending—as long as it fits organically.
When you’ve finally finished your story and written your plot twist, it’s time to ask for a second opinion. Test your story on beta readers and see how your plot twist is received before finalizing your manuscript. Ultimately, mind-boggling plot twists are the result of research (read the classics!), feedback, and learning what does—and doesn’t—work. By following these writing tips, you’ll be on the way to having your readers saying, Wow, I did not see that coming!
Question: What stories feature your favorite plot twists? (No spoilers!)