Twists are good in books. Everyone (well, unless it’s not in the favor of your favorite character) enjoys a good, thought out plot twist. Perhaps it’s betrayal. Maybe it’s sudden death, or the character having the wrong ingredients for their world-saving smoothie. I have lots of twists in my books, and from what beta readers have told me, I pull them off fairly well. However, if you ever read The Siren’s Stone, my first book, you’ll know that I liked to throw in twists at random. “THEY’RE ALL MERMAIDS!” “THEY’RE IN LOVE!”* “BETRAYALLLLL! DEATH! SADNESS!”**
So obviously I had to learn that if I wanted to do that, I needed it to make sense. And also not set books in real places with no explanation of magic and people turning randomly into mermaids and/or dying.
This one is important. Guys, if one of your characters is planning something that your MC isn’t, please, please foreshadow it. Now, I’m not asking you to have one of your characters overhear them plotting nefariously. (Not even sure that’d be foreshadowing anymore… that might just be the reveal.) And I don’t mean foreshadowing by the MC going “I had a sudden feeling they were going to try to murder me in my sleep.”
Instead of the MC saying/thinking that, have your MC see them sharpening a knife. Maybe it looks suspicious. Maybe it looks normal. It all depends on the character. A lot of times, “throwaway lines” that technically build character are great for foreshadowing. Maybe one of your characters makes a joke about how they’ve always thought it’d be easiest to kill someone sleeping. (Jokes are often a great way to reveal character/foreshadowing.) Maybe your character is forced to kill someone else and doesn’t act as sad or disturbed as they ought to be. There are hundreds of ways to use little character quirks to foreshadow and make your twist make sense.
If your MC doesn’t react, does a twist even matter? If someone they were friends with suddenly dies and they just shrug it off, how much will your reader actually care about the death?
I think it was… Hunger Games, maybe (I haven’t read it) that someone was complaining to me about, because one of the characters died really suddenly and no one stopped to care about it.
People often throw twists about for the shock factor, but that just confuses the reader. Make your character be in a vulnerable moment– be it happy or sad– and twist the world around on top of them. One of my characters gets betrayed when they are in a moment of deep despair. I remember… Okay, I admit, I was laughing as I wrote it, but that was only because I could feel the character’s and reader’s pain and knew the shock for both. Plus, the foreshadowing I intentionally wove in would make it even more fun for someone who read it with the twist in mind. (I know this because, even after all my times of reading it, I still grin when I read over my own foreshadowing. I’m rather proud of it. 😛 )
There’s a book I read once (Or maybe listened to an audio book of) that I liked fairly well. It had to do with boys in an orphanage and a search for a long-lost prince. (That may not have been the exact premise, but bear with me– it’s been a while since I read the story.) From what I remember, it was Anastasia-esque, with the boys being trained to appear to be the long lost prince and fool the kingdom, gaining the money or power or whatever. All this was good and logical. You read most of the chapters from one character’s POV. Because of the way these stories go, it wasn’t hard to guess that one of the boys would turn out to be none other than the prince.
And then the POV character up and revealed that he, in fact, was the prince. He, whom we had trusted to tell the story faithfully in first-person-past-tense. This was supposed to be the “amazing twist” and the “great reveal.” Unreliable narrators are fine. Character misunderstandings are fine. Characters lying to each other are fine.
Characters lying to the reader for 3/4 of the book are not fine. Characters making up a fake backstory are not fine. It was supposed to be an amazing reveal, but it just got dropped on me. I felt shocked, sure– but the twist felt like it had been thrown in just for shock value. Some random twist to make the reader feel stupid and cheated– because apparently this character could become a completely different person at a pen drop, and apparently his thoughts and emotions were filtered for the audience.
forgive the rant.
All that to say, please do not let your POV– specifically first person POV– character straight up lie to the reader for the entirety of a book. Suspense is one thing (“Were they able to retrieve the long-lost gem?”) lying is another (“Wait, the MC– who’s thoughts I’ve been reading the whole time– actually wanted to kill everyone?”)
All That To Say…
I think the biggest way to pull off a plot twist can be summed up with this: Make the reader feel enlightened. Make them suddenly understand why X was acting weird. Make them notice that other characters in the know had already seemed odd, and that off-hand comment that struck a nerve actually had a purpose.
Most authors try to write plot twists that make people feel. However, this can lead to people feeling cheated or feeling confused. With the right amounts of foreshadowing and truth, your twist can be believable. Add a bit of vulnerability from other characters– shocked joy, intense sorrow, distraught confusion– and you can make a scene pleasing both to logic and emotion.
What do you think? Do you agree with my assessment of plot twists? Is there anything you’d add?
*A result of too many Disney movies.
**I fully admit to still doing this in my books, but I would say I pull it of much more gracefully thanks to what I’ve learned about foreshadowing.
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