I. What is a Plot Twist?
In literature, film, television, and even video games, a plot twist is an unsuspected occurrence or turn of events in the story that completely changes the direction or outcome of the plot from the direction it was likely to go. It’s a hugely popular and frequently used narrative technique in fiction. Plot twists are designed to disrupt things in a story that the audience thinks they already know or have figured out. The author achieves this “twisting” of the plot by providing a huge shock or surprise, one that is either completely unexpected, or was perhaps foreshadowed through earlier details or events.
*Note—the examples in this article contain spoilers!
II. Example of Plot Twist
Here’s an example of a plot twist in a piece of crime fiction:
The ransom was ready…all the family and police had to do now was wait. Soon they would have the kidnapper, and the man would get his wife back. As the kidnapper entered the alleyway and picked up the bag of money, they switched on the bright floodlights. “Stop right there, you’ve got nowhere to run!” yelled the cop. “Remove your mask and put your hands where I can see them!” The man began to remove his mask as everyone waited in anticipation. As he pulled it from his face, the family collectively gasped—it wasn’t a man after all—it was the kidnapped woman herself!
This passage reveals that the person who everyone is trying to rescue from a kidnapping is actually the culprit herself. In this plot twist, we learn that she’s been trying to trick everyone into paying a ransom for her, but now she’s been caught.
III. Importance of Plot Twists
Plot twists are invaluable literary devices that will never go out of style. Without them, all stories would be predictable, and therefore sometimes quite boring! It can be assumed that all authors and storytellers have used plot twists one time or another, but more likely they use them all the time! Most importantly, the value of plot twists lies in how it affects an audience and their experience of a story—after all, plot twists are designed for them!
What’s more, awesome plot twists can be a signature feature of a storyteller’s work and even sometimes directly lead to their fame and success—for instance, film director M. Night Shyamalan is specifically known for the huge twists in each of his stories (like unforeseen shocker at the end of The Sixth Sense).
IV. Examples of Plot Twist in Pop Culture
In the third installment of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, a storyline that pervades the film is that of The Pit, a prison that is nearly impossible to escape. Only one prisoner has ever successfully climbed out; a child, who Batman believes is the villain Bane. But, towards the end of the film when Batman is facing his foes, he finds out something he never suspected…
In this plot twist, we learn that Talia was the child that made the impossible climb from the pit. Batman had assumed it was his stronger, more sinister foe Bane, when in truth it was a woman he cared for and never suspected.
In the horror film The Others, Grace and her two children live in a secluded countryside home. The children have a rare disease that makes them sensitive to light. Soon after the arrival of her servants, strange things begin to happen and Grace and the children start to believe there are others living in the house. Grace draws pictures of people she has seen, but a huge twist comes when she learns that the those haunting the house aren’t who she expected…
Here, we learn that Grace and children are themselves the dead, not the people Grace has seen. The people she has seen are actually the ones performing the séance—they are the living, and they’re trying to contact Grace and the children.
V. Examples in Literature
In Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl and film adaptation of the same name, Amy Dunne is missing and likely dead, from what the audience can see. Furthermore, it looks her husband did it—all clues point to him. But we are soon given a plot twist that changes everything…
I’m so much happier now that I’m dead.
Technically, missing. Soon to be presumed dead. But as shorthand, we’ll say dead. It’s been only a matter of hours, but I feel better already…dread Carthage forty-three miles behind me, my smug husband lounging around his sticky bar as mayhem dangled on a thin piano wire just above his oblivious head—and I realized I was smiling.
Here, we learn that Amy is alive and well, and has obviously had a part in her own disappearance. This unexpected plot twist completely changes the direction of the story and the audience’s perception of what is going on and will happen.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is filled with plot twists and turns, most of which are foreshadowed throughout the stories. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, it turns out that Ron’s pet rat, Scabbers, is not exactly who they all think he is…
A flash of blue-white light erupted from both wands; for a moment, Scabbers was frozen in midair, his small gray form twisting madly—Ron yelled—the rat fell and hit the floor. There was another blinding flash of light and then—It was like watching a speeded-up film of a growing tree. A head was shooting upward from the ground; limbs were sprouting; a moment later, a man was standing where Scabbers had been, cringing and wringing his hands.
Here, we learn that Scabbers is in fact Peter Pettigrew, an old friend of Harry’s father whom everyone has long believed dead. It turns out that Peter has been disguising himself as a rat for 9 years to hide the fact that it was he who had a part in the murder of Harry’s parents. Rowling foreshadowed this in several ways, for instance, by showing Peter Pettigrew inside Hogwarts on the Marauder’s Map, even though he was supposed to be dead.
VI. Related Terms
Turn of events
A turn of events is just another phrase used to describe a plot twist!
The turning point of a story is its climax, when the rising action turns to the falling action. The turning point involves a major event, but unlike a plot twist, it doesn’t necessary involve a change of direction or big “twist.”
In conclusion, plot twists can be everything in a story—they can completely determine its success and whether or not an audience leaves it feeling satisfied. In fact, great plot twists often become famous or legendary in the world of fiction, remembered for their cleverness, shock factor, and strong audience reaction!