Monday, March 17, 2014

The Secret to an Amazing Plot Twist

I haven't done a "Secret" post in a while, so I thought it was time to remedy that.

This post was inspired by my fantastically-talented CP, Lanette Kauten, and her manuscript, CASSIA. I was critiquing it for her when I predicted a plot twist due to a clue she left before. Every other person she showed the manuscript to did not predict the plot twist and they were shocked when it occurred. Everyone, that is, but me (call me Detective SC from now on, I won't mind).

Now, there will probably always be someone who figures out the plot twists in your novel (I say 'probably' because JK Rowling had millions of people trying to figure out her ingeniously-planted twists and I don't think anyone predicted every single one). The question is, how do you keep the suspense and tension strong even when the reader correctly predicts the plot twist?

If the twist is way too obvious or if your novel is a mystery novel, sure, make it harder to figure it out. But we're assuming that the twist is sufficiently hard to figure out. Even so, there will always be that one reader who guesses correctly. The secret is not to try making the plot twist even harder to figure out because someone will figure it out. Accept that fact. The secret is to make the story full of suspense even if the reader finds out the twist. And that's hard.

The Secret to an Amazing Plot Twist

Make the story interesting and full of tension even if a reader figures out the plot twist. Basically, accommodate the readers that are detectives.

The trick to writing a bad plot twist is to rely on the 'big reveal' to be the only driving force of tension in your novel. A Detective Reader (that's what we'll call them from now on) will figure it out and then there'll be no point in reading anymore. It'll be boring.

I'm going to give you the two best options as to what you can do:

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respective owners.
1. You can go "The Cuckoo's Calling" route and make so many freaking red herrings that even if the reader guesses correctly, the reader will second-guess themselves later on. (I actually thought this to be a flaw in "The Cuckoo's Calling" because it got so difficult to keep track of the details, I basically just gave up trying to solve the mystery and just went along on the ride. The ride was fun, though, so I'm not really complaining. And that conclusion, holy crap. I did NOT see that coming!) *This tactic works best for mysteries.*

2. You can make the journey, not the destination, the interesting part. This is what is most commonly employed in writing. Just think: how many times have you figured out who the bad guy is (most of the Dan Brown novels, anyone?) but you keep reading because you want to know how the main character will figure it out? A love for the main character (or a love for the journey and secrets, in Dan Brown's case) is what drives this strategy. You've got to make your main character engrossing, and you've got to make the reader care for him/her.

Personally, I think option two is much more viable because option one lends itself best to mystery novels or subplots that involve a mystery. Not every novel has that. Option two, however, is fantastic for almost every novel. Think about how even if you know how a movie or book ends, you still watch/read it because you want to experience the journey. That was the movie "Philomena," for me. (Good gosh that movie was incredible.) In fact, I think making the journey engrossing is a crucial aspect to almost any novel.

A note: I've been thirsting to finish Lanette Kauten's book because of option number 2. I love the characters in her novel. Her book is a good example of how to keep tension strong without relying only on the plot twist!

So, if you ever want to write a truly amazing plot twist, use one of the two options above - and never, ever (this is one of the only times I've said 'never'!) grossly underestimate your reader!

Do you guys have anything to add? What are your techniques to writing awesome plot twists? Which option is your personal favorite?


  1. Those are some great options! I love them both, yet I don't write mystery so I'm going to focus on option 2. Thanks so much!

  2. I think my favorite plot twist was in PRISONER OF AZKABAN (*SPOILERS*: Sirius is a good guy!) The clues were there if you're looking, but Rowling didn't make it obvious that there would *be* a plot twist.

    I think that makes a difference as well -- in mystery & suspense novels, you can expect something unexpected to happen, but sometimes in other genres, the authors make it *so* obvious so early on that there's going to be a twist b/c something isn't right or someone is hiding something or things aren't as they seem, that then I spend the rest of the book trying to guess what the twist is going to be and when "the big reveal" comes, I'd figured it out long ago and it falls kind of flat if that's what they've set the whole story up for. That's why M. Night Shyamalan's earlier movies (Sixth Sense, The Village) were more well-received than the later ones -- by the time Lady on the Water or The Happening came around, you knew there was going to be some kind of twist to it, so it wasn't as shocking or exciting when it happened.

  3. Absolutely! I think part of the fun of reading is trying to see if you can discover a plot twist on your own. And when you're right, it's a moment of victory! Or if you're wrong, you're taken by surprise and it's still awesome---so it *can* be a win/win situation IF the writer knows how to keep the tension and intrigue on the page. Great post, SC. :) :) :)

  4. The little twists and reveals along the way are more enjoyable. I tried to throw those into my third book since I did have a big reveal at the end. (And every reader has said they didn't see it coming, so I guess I did it right.)

  5. I LOVE to do plot twists in my story, it's not usually a conscious thing for me, I just get hit with the truth along the way and then go back and make sure the threads hint at that way.

  6. I love plot twists. I'm one of those people who can almost always figure them out early but it doesn't ruin the story for me when it's well written.

  7. Completely seriously, I just let them surprise me. Almost every story -- flash, short story, or novel -- that I write ends with what I call a "Sixth Sense" ending. And the funny thing is, I don't try to find it. The ironic twist finds me.

  8. I almost always figure out plot twists. I've read a lot of books that rely on that and nothing else and the story is boring. There's no other reason to read. I've also read books where the ending was pretty easy to see coming but the book itself was so amazing I didn't mind. The journey was the reason. I like those books.

  9. Plot twists are fun! They are the meat and potatoes of structure that keeps readers turning the page.