Twist It

Jody Lebel
Published on: July 2013
What is a twist? A plot twist is a change in the expected direction or outcome of the plot of a novel or other work of narrative. It is used to keep the interest of an audience, usually surprising them.

A perfect example of a good twist can be found in the movie The Sixth Sense, a 1999 film starring Bruce Willis. In it a boy who com-municates with ghosts that don't know they're dead seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist. Throughout the film the psychologist has problems of his own with his marriage. The twist? The reason the boy can communicate with the psychologist is because the doctor is also dead but doesn't know it. This twist comes at the end. In order for the twist to work, you have to deliberately mislead your audience, but the build-up once revealed has to also be true to the twist. All of the scenes in the Sixth Sense make sense.
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In other words, they all worked whether the man was dead or not. For example in a teary restaurant scene where the doctor and his wife were seated opposite one another at a table, it appeared that his wife was talking to him when she was really talking to her dead husband, telling him she was angry that he wasn't there for her. The doctor, not knowing he's dead, thought she was angry because he had forgotten their anniversary and had arrived at the restaurant late. He was trying to tell her he was sorry, but she appeared to be talking right over him. It was an excellent scene that gave you an aha moment once you knew the twist.

The twist should always be pertinent to the story. Don't make the mistake of dropping something odd in that has no bearing on the storyline whatsoever. Plot twists have to be logical, make sense to the reader, and they must be connected to the story.

Here are 5 rules to twist your story.
  • Make it believable. Even in a paranormal you have to make it somewhat believable. For example a fireman dies in a fire and his family is devastated. A good twist here might be that instead of burying her husband, the wife goes to a Voo Doo lady who claims she can bring the dead back to life. And she does, but it goes terribly wrong. A bad twist? You have a tiny fairy popping down from heaven who teaches the wife how to dance the cha-cha. What? You can't have a silly twist that will end up spoiling the story.
  • Don't get too outrageous. Something too oddball will have the reader putting the book down. No pink unicorns in the middle of a modern mystery. You want your twist to fit right in, not throw the reader off. If the twist is too strange, it's basically a story killer.
  • Don't be boring. The point of a twist is that it must be surprising and it must enter the story at the right time. Any type of story can benefit from a twist. If a man is trying to win a woman's love and he sends her flowers, that's nice but predicable. A good twist here would be if he sent her a puppy not knowing she's allergic to dogs.
  • Don't spring something on your readers out of the blue. Leave small clues, and slight descriptions that could eventually lead the reader to the right answer if they paid attention. Nothing is worse than reading a good murder mystery only to find out the killer is some character that is introduced in the last chapter. Makes me want to kill the author.
  • Write the most predictable scene imaginable. Write three ways that the reader would expect the story could go. Then throw those ideas away. Here's your scene: a man and a woman are stranded on an uninhabited island in the Bahamas because of a boat fire. They swim to shore and watch the boat burn and sink. Nighttime is near. What happens next? 1) They make a fire. 2) They find shelter. 3) They try to find water. Nope. What happens next? They hear odd growling noises coming from the interior of the island. There are no wild animals in the Bahamas, but something quite large is definitely making its way towards them. Now do you want to read on? Sure, you do.
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