Respect the twist

How to write a successful plot twist

 

How to avoid a failed plot twist

 By David Brown

 

A plot twist can make or break a story.

Here's the essence of a great twist: you find out a character has been lying the entire time, and though you never saw it coming, when the betrayal happens, it makes perfect sense—inevitable but unexpected. You are filled with rage alongside the narrator, because you too were tricked by this no-good, manipulative jerk.

(Plot twists come in many forms. I'm just using betrayal as an example.) 

What’s crucial here is that, at the moment the twist is revealed, you do not lose narrative immersion. You are buried deep in the story, and the unexpected turn pulls you in deeper still.

It is a very fine line between this outcome and complete failure. In a failed twist, readers feel tricked by the author rather than by the betrayer. If your readers feel like they have been led astray, either with deceptive clues or withheld details, the twist will come off as a narrative ruse.

As soon as readers pause to think about the architect behind the page, narrative immersion is lost. The characters seem more like constructions and the plot like rigid scaffolding.

Another consideration is tension. In all but the most shocking of reversals, I would argue that there is usually more tension in the anticipation of a betrayal than there is in an unexpected back-stab. That is to say, knowing there is a betrayer waiting to strike but not knowing when it will happen is often more engaging/exciting/agonizing than the sheer shock of unanticipated treachery.

For this reason, I recommend against including more than one significant twist per novel—unless the story absolutely demands it.

If you respect the twist, it can do great things for you, but when a twist is included as a matter of course, or at least without enough attention, it can sink your tale right at the crucial moment.  

About the Darling Axe

We are professional editors as well as award-winning writers. We understand the intense effort and emotional investment you have poured into your work. It's our job to help you realize your vision and take your manuscript to the next level.



Work with a professional fiction editor from the Darling Axe: manuscript development and book editing services



Darling Axe Academy – online courses and writing workshops

Book a sample edit with a professional fiction editor from the Darling Axe: manuscript development and book editing services

Related Posts

Success Story with Gail Anderson-Dargatz
Success Story with Gail Anderson-Dargatz
At a time when we can easily throw our work online, or self-publish, it’s more important than ever to fully develop our
Read More
Query letter quandaries: pro tips from the pros
Query letter quandaries: pro tips from the pros
"A useful sentence to keep in mind is: When A (inciting incident) happens, B (character) must do C (action) otherwise/be
Read More
Best-laid plans: outlining seminar now on sale
Best-laid plans: outlining seminar now on sale
This course will lead you through the steps of drafting a blueprint for your next novel. By the end of the seminar, you
Read More

3 comments

  • Been working on a mystery with a peculiar twist. Your words were extremely helpful. Many Thanks. I’m new at this—could you answer a question? Does it make any difference when you submit your story; i.e. early, mid-point, close to the deadline…Thanks.

    Barb
  • I felt completely betrayed by the work of an author I greatly admire (except for this title!):Big Brother. Friends compared it to the flip in Atonement, but somehow I wasn’t infuriated at McEwan as I was with Lionel Shriver. I’ll review your article and ponder upon why that was. I wonder what others think of that.

    Lisa K
  • Well articulated point and definitely one to consider as a KEY element.

    Thank you Septimus

    Geoff Major

Leave a comment

Name .
.
Message .

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published