A story plot isn’t static – every plot has to have a few dramatic twists and turns in order to keep the story dynamic and interesting for the reader. Plot twists are a useful way of keeping the reader guessing; it keeps them invested in the story – they have to keep reading in order to find out what happens next.
The plot twist is just that – it twists in another direction unexpectedly. They should be constructed in such a way that the reader won’t expect it, or predict it. It’s that element of surprise is what makes a plot twist effective. Not only that, they have to be plausible, which means they should be directly related to the plot, otherwise they just won’t work.
So how do you even start to put a plot twist in place?
That relies entirely on the kind of story you’re telling and the characters that inhabit the story. The most successful plot twists pull the rug from beneath the reader’s feet and catch them off guard, but in order to achieve that, you first have set up the twist. That’s because plot twists don’t just materialise from nowhere – there needs to be a valid reason behind them.
Sometimes they manifest themselves early on within the story, as part of a reveal that might happen later in the story. Sometimes they happen during development and planning stage, or often they emerge during the editing stage, when the writer sees a way of livening up the story.
The complex part of any plot twist is how they are actually formed, and that’s because many of them generally develop at an earlier point in the story. Often they are foreshadowed from this earlier point – this can be by way of a subtle hint, an observation or even symbolism – then they can be used at the right moment, the ‘set up’. It should just be enough to tease the reader, but not enough that they will figure it out the twist before the ‘twist’ actually happens.
There are many different kinds of plot twist constructions, but it’s worth remembering why writers use them. They tend to be for the following reasons:
- Story turning point – the story moves in a new, dynamic direction to keep things interesting.
- Significant development – perhaps an important character dies, giving the narrative shock value.
- A revelation – a truth is uncovered, or a perhaps a betrayal occurs. Or even a huge lie is uncovered.
- Red herring – a deliberate turn to dupe the reader.
The twist ending hasn’t been included here because although it involves a twist construction, this kind comes at the end of the story, as part of the conclusion, rather than part way through, as those listed above.
Story Turning Point
This plot twist is where the story turns on its heel because of a character’s actions or something significant has to happen within the story. This usually develops within the story as it unfolds and is sometimes foreshadowed.
A significant development in the story can be almost anything, but writers like to keep their readers on their toes, and one way of doing this is to kill one of the main characters – especially one that has featured prominently and the reader has identified with. The assumption is that our favourite characters can’t possibly die, but when it does happen, it pushes the story into a whole new direction.
This kind of twist involves a very important revelation, which again, the reader should not see coming. It could be the uncovering of a major lie. It could be that the main character discovers the truth (about an event, someone or something else, or indeed he discovers the truth about himself).
Revelations as plot twists may not have the same impact as the significant turning point, but it’s a great way of keeping the reader’s interest and at the same time, it gives the story rich layers for the reader.
This is a plot twist that is very deliberate rather than organically developed from the main story. Writers use these kinds of plot twists to wrong-foot the reader, to make them think they may have guessed what is happening, but in reality it’s merely a playful set up for the real plot twist a little further on. The red herring is merely a clever way of duping the reader.
In Part 2 we’ll look at the reasons for the plot twist and some examples how they work.
Next week: How to Construct Plot Twists – Part 2