A plot twist is a sudden change in your story that your audience don’t see coming, such as a reveal that one of the goodies is actually a baddie. Your plot twist can be written in a way that pulls your audience into your story and makes them want more because it’s a really unexpected moment that’s exciting to read, or it can boot them out. And you never want to boot your audience out.
The Wrong Way to Write a Plot Twist
If you want to throw a plot twist into your story, but without any thought or care, it’s pretty easy. You just write until you get to a point where you feel a plot twist would energise your story, and then suddenly pull the rug out under your audience and change things. It comes out of nowhere and shocks your audience because they didn’t see it coming.
The problem with this kind of plot twist is that your audience is unlikely to buy it, and it’ll read like you as the writer didn’t see it coming either.
If you have a character suddenly betray your Protagonist, or an unlikely hero suddenly get strength to be the one to fight the monster, but there has been no build up at all, no hint that it was coming, then it just feels like a random event that nobody will believe. A good plot twist has to be both believable, and a surprise. Just a surprise on its own isn’t good enough.
The key to writing a plot twist that is still believable is in the foreshadowing. When your audience reads or watches your story for the second, third, fourth time, they should start to notice all the hints and clues throughout your story that the twist is coming.
Subtle signs baked into the story that, in and of themselves, are completely innocent moments that can go by unnoticed, which is why you don’t see them on the first viewing, but when you add them all together, they’re an arrow pointing to the arrival of the twist. Because even though you don’t necessarily realise they’re happening, because you’re focusing on the main plot, you’ve still absorbed that information, so when the twist is revealed you might be surprised and excited by it, but you’re not shocked out of the story because it actually does make sense.
An example I’m going to give you of a plot twist is the end of Shazam! so if you haven’t seen it, go watch it. Because this is going to be full of spoilers.
In Shazam!, it seems like it’ll be the “one superhero with the power” story that we know and love; Shazam is whizzing around the place and fighting the bad guy. However, at the end, he uses the wizard’s staff (if you’ve never seen this film and are reading this anyway, I can’t imagine how bizarre this whole thing sounds, but go with me) to put the powers of Shazam into his foster siblings. They then transform into a little team of six superheroes, ready to fight the monsters.
The reason it’s such a great twist is because from the very beginning of the story it’s trickled through events that this is coming. At the beginning the wizard talks about his brothers and sisters, that there were six of them, then in the foster home Billy refuses to accept five foster siblings as actual siblings until the end of the film. It’s reinforced by the line of six chairs in the wizard’s chambers, showing you that six people are supposed to have control of these powers. His foster brother, Freddy, is obsessed with superheroes and desperate to have the strength and ability to fight off bullies.
Because you’re focused on the plot of Billy Batson searching for his birth mother, Shazam learning to use his powers, and Doctor Sivana’s plot to use the Seven Deadly Sins, you don’t really focus on those hints. There’s no spotlight shone on them; they’re just integrated into part of the story.
Other plot twist examples include The Sixth Sense, the fact he’s been dead all along has been hinted at the whole way through. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Quirrell secretly being in league with Voldemort (and Voldemort secretly being in Quirrell) is hinted at from the first time you meet him.
Make the Hints Subtle
The key to writing a good plot twist is that the hints for the plot twist are not the focus of the story, but they happen all the way through, so when the twist happens it makes sense.
The way to avoid shining a light on your hints is to make sure there’s another reason to show the information you’re giving. It’s integrated into another part of the story, so even though you’re lining up your frogs for the big reveal at the end, in and of that moment, the frog is just part of an existing storyline. So in Shazam! when the wizard says “The seats of our brothers and sisters await!” it’s lost in a sea of other strange speech patterns and information being delivered in a confusing and cryptic way, so even though he’s specifically telling you that Billy’s siblings will sit on those chairs, it’s not focused on and gets blended into the rest of the scene.
To write a really solid plot twist, remember; all the hints you put through your story that the twist is coming shouldn’t be distracting enough to make you aware that they’re hints for what’s to come, and they should be so integrated into your story that it makes sense they’re included even if they’re not building to a twist. Then, when they are all tied together by the plot twist at the end, it’s incredibly satisfying. But a plot twist without any foreshadowing is just confusing and unbelievable.
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