Last week, we looked at why we there are plot twists and the different styles of plot twist available to writers, so in this second part, we’ll look at how to set them up and how they work.
We’ve already established that plot twists are important to keep the story dynamic and interesting for the reader, and it’s a good way of moving the story forward.
Plot Twists Should Happen for a Reason
There is a very good reason why writers use plot twists, other than to keep the reader turning the page, and that is to advance the main plot. If you use a plot twist, there must be a reason behind it, something that must be related to the main story and/or the characters in some way, otherwise they won’t work.
The wonderful thing about them is that they are like the surface of the ocean – there are all manner of things going on at the surface, but somewhere beneath the waves something is stirring.
Creating effective plot twists takes some practice because the idea is for the reader to be completely unaware of them. They lose their initial effectiveness the moment the reader guesses the plot twist, so it’s important to get them right. Conversely, they should be so revealing that they don’t lose their impact, even on a second or third reading, where the reader knows the story.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn purposely pulls the reader in one direction and then pushes them in another direction through deliberate red herrings and narrator deceit. The Kite Runner has one twist after another, woven through the fabric of the story, leaving subtle hints for the reader for the reveals later in the story.
These plot twists work because the writers don’t give too much away. Some have hinted certain things, but many clues are inlaid between emotion and conflict and of course, these stories demand that the reader invest in the characters, which is achieved thorough characterisation and creating immediacy.
Create the Set up
With an idea of what type of plot twist you want – maybe a revelation or a significant development – you can begin to formulate how it should take shape and where in the story it should happen.
The set up is the way a writer constructs the narrative to reveal the plot twist later in the story, to achieve the best effect.
If, for example, I want to reveal that one of my main characters is, in fact, a double crossing villain who will betray the hero, I would need to establish the character with the reader early in the story so that they find a connection with this character and care what happens to him/her.
I might also want to drop a few clues throughout the narrative, or provide some false clues – all without giving too much away – so that the twist is a surprise but at the same time the reader realises the clues were there all along.
I’ll then have to choose the right moment to reveal the plot twist for maximum effect. It’s really important to get it right – it has to be directly related to the action taking place, there has to be a reason for it and it must advance the story at the same time.
This is how many writers set up the plot twist. Of course, every writer is different and will have a different approach, but knowing when to reveal the plot twist, why and for what purpose it serves, is the difference between it working or failing.
Create an Impact
Any plot twist you use should create an impact – some are surprising, some are shocking, some are sad etc. Each one creates an emotional response, and that’s why they are effective, especially if you’ve done your work at the beginning of the story to create the kind of characters the reader wants to know all about.
- They have to happen for a reason
- Don’t give too much away
- Feed the reader false information, hint at things that will fool them
- Make sure the reader is invested in the characters and the story = maximum impact
- Choose the right moment for the plot twist
Constructing plot twists can be complex sometimes, and at other times, they’re relatively easy. It really depends on the story you’re writing. Some will take a while to materialise – even at the editing stage – whereas other times they really do come to us in a lightbulb moment.
Whatever your approach, however you construct them, ensure that the plot twist happens for a reason, is part of the story and is effective.
Next week: Creating realistic fight scenes.