How to Write a Plot Twist
When developing a plot twist and building up, your goal should always be geared towards the audience’s reaction. As an overall rule, remember that they’ve taken the time to invest themselves in your story. You want them to get some sort of satisfaction for that—so, while your plot twist should be surprising, and may even be shocking, it should not strongly disappoint an audience, or leave them feeling cheated, tricked, or manipulated by their emotional investment in the story.
When developing your plot twist, you should have one of these goals in mind:
- To leave your audience saying “No way, I can’t believe it! I never saw that coming!”
- To leave your audience saying “Oh yeah, totally—how didn’t I see that coming?”
- To leave your audience saying “Wow, I knew it was possible, but never guessed it would really happen!”
Now, here are some tips for how to develop a successful and intriguing plot twist:
- Think of all likely outcomes for the story…and then throw them out!
- Develop obstacles that are seemingly impossible to overcome, and then think of a plausible solution that the audience won’t guess, but will understand and believe when it happens
- For a big shock, make it seem like there is only one possible outcome to the story—and then use your twist to completely surprise the audience
- For a surprising but less extreme twist, develop your story in a way that makes the audience totally unsure where it is going or what could happen, leaving it open to many possible outcomes.
- For a clever and thought-provoking twist, use small clues throughout the story that the audience may forget or only take small note of, and then bring back those clues in the twist
- You may choose to foreshadow your twist with either very subtle and hidden clues, or very noticeable and direct clues, depending on how close you want your audience to get to figuring it out.
When to Use a Plot Twist
As mentioned, plot twists are a commonly used narrative technique in all types of fiction. In fact, most stories will include at least some sort of plot twist, whether major or minor, foreshadowed or unpredictable. But, selecting the perfect moment to reveal your twist is key to a story’s success. If they occur too frequently or too early, they will lose their effect—so, if you’re going to include them in your story, you should do so sparingly and with careful placement.
Plot twists most typically occur towards the end of a story, just when the audience thinks they have everything figured out. Technically one can occur anytime, so long as there is enough material that can logically lead to it—authors need time to build up to a plot twist, so one couldn’t really work at the very beginning of a story. Building up to a twist lets audiences get to know the characters and understand their actions and intentions more and more as the plot progresses. Then, once an author has seemingly established a predictable storyline, they throw in a plot twist. The twist can completely change the audience’s understanding of previous events, or disprove assumptions that they made about where the story was headed.