Is there anything as good as reading a story and coming across a plot twist so great it completely blows you away?
When done right, a plot twist will turn a tale on its head, get readers turning pages, and talking about your work to anyone who’ll listen. If that sounds like something you want in your manuscript, then these tricks are for you!
Plot Twist Tricks
Coming Up With A Twist
Some plot twists happen as you’re writing. You didn’t plan it; you didn’t see it coming, and you are the first reader to be surprised by the twist.
When it happens organically in the writing process, it should read that way in the finished draft. If you’re not sure, have a beta reader check that the twist is a natural fit in the story, and then thank your muse/writing-brain for coming up with something so genius.
If an unplanned twist hasn’t manifested in your rough drafts, then you’ve got some planning to do, and in some ways, that’s even more fun!
With a planned plot twist, you get to look at every incident, character interaction, and the overall plot and study where and when to drop in a twist that will elevate your story to the next level. It takes planning, countless notebook pages, and a little of your sanity, but if you do the twist right, it will be worth it!
Brainstorming is a great way to do this. You can even brainstorm an organically created twist and see if you can make it better. Get yourself a piece of paper or a new digital document and jot down every idea you can think of that will add a twist to your plot.
Forget anything that’s too simple, that’ll only create something the readers will see coming. Keep any idea that has merit and expand on it. What else can you do to the twist? What are two outcomes that could happen? Ask yourself all those crazy “What if?” questions and see where you land. Somewhere in there is your plot twist, and once you have the idea, you just need to finesse it!
Add Your Red Herrings
No plot twist is complete without a red herring to throw it off track. This is when you purposely misdirect the reader.
Red herrings should be plausible and entertaining. You want to distract the reader with a red herring they’re invested in enough to follow, but not too disappointed by when they realize it’s a misdirect. Don’t lie to them or plant a clue that goes nowhere (you don’t want to be that writer). The red herring might not be what the reader thought it would be, but it should still have a purpose.
Know Where To Place Your Clues
For a good twist to work, you need to have clues the reader can pick up on, but ones that aren’t so obvious they know the twist as soon as the first clue is planted.
It’s a tricky balance to get right. You might be tempted to drop a clue on the second page that doesn’t pay off until the final, but that’s a risky game. It could take a reader months to get through your book, and that early clue could be long forgotten. Try to work your clue, or a subtle reminder of it, into the twist’s vicinity.
Another good way to drop a hint without it being obvious is during a big scene.
Say you have two characters fighting and heated words are said and the tension is thick. There’s so much going on the reader is glued to the page. They’re so invested they don’t notice that one little clue dropped in a slip of a character’s tongue, or an important item knocked astray when the MC storms out of the room. The twist clue is simply absorbed into the reader’s subconscious and lost to the chapter’s action. Then, when the twist finally hits, the seed you planted when they were focused on other things has its time to bloom.
Don’t Forget To Foreshadow
Your readers saying “I knew it” or “Now it all makes perfect sense!” is the highest of honors after you’ve dropped your twist. The way to achieve that is to foreshadow it.
Let’s consider an example where there’s a murder victim and the key to solving their death is on a password-protected USB drive. One twist in the story is that the password is the opening line of the victim’s favorite song. If that song was never mentioned before the twist, it all falls a bit flat when the info is revealed. The reader might see it as coming out of nowhere or no big deal. If instead, that song twist is foreshadowed in a flashback or a conversation before the MC died, suddenly the twist is more exciting. The reader was aware of the song already and it now feels like a puzzle piece has slipped into place—making the twist that more satisfying.
Steer Clear Of Cheap Tricks
Don’t go for cheap tricks like the twist being a dream or an evil twin. Unless you’re pulling off something fresh with these clichés, keep them out of your plot twists.
Cheap tricks are the kind of things that make a reader stop reading or throw your book across the room when they’re done. You want readers to tell others about your book, remember? And you want them doing it because you had a plot twist that was fresh, made sense in the story, didn’t get bogged down in an unsatisfying red herring, and was foreshadowed perfectly with the best-placed clues.
— K.M Allan