A plot twist is one of those things that is either mind-blowingly brilliant, or it falls completely flat and ruins the entire story with its boring predictability. Rarely does a plot twist fall anywhere in between. For this reason, it is one of the riskiest things to make an attempt at writing. For those who are willing to take the risk and end up successful, you may just have a chance at going down in history. Some of the most unforgettable stories, are made unforgettable by the way the so effectively pull the rug out from under us. Some of the most famous movies of all time, are so because of their iconic twists.
The general definition of a plot twist is very simple; it almost explains itself really. It is an unexpected development within the plot of a book, film, TV show, or other form of narrative. Its simple definition does not mean it is simple to create, however. Crafting a good plot twist is an art form. It requires careful planning, attention to detail, and a lot of creativity. The plot twist is an integral part of many good thrillers.
Elements of a Good Plot Twist
Try to subtly misdirect your audience’s attention. Gently guiding them away from the potential direction of your plot will make the reveal more surprising. You should be aiming to have them think that they know what’s going on, but of course they don’t know everything. There are many different things you can use to do this. A common trick is to plant false clues or information that take them in the wrong direction. These are known as red herrings. You can also plant real clues but put them in exciting and fast-paced scenes where they are likely to be missed.
The Double Plot Twist
If you want to get super crafty, you can try creating a double plot twist. This is where you lead the readers to a mildly unexpected twist that they will believe is THE twist, and just when they’ve gotten comfortable and think they have it all figured out, you deliver an even bigger twist. It is doubtful the audience will be expecting another big reveal so soon after the first one, so it’s the perfect chance to really catch them off guard.
No matter what type of plot twist you decide to use in your novel the important thing to remember, is a plot twist should always deepen and further the story. Don’t try to put a plot twist in your story just for the sake of being shocking, or because you think the story is too boring without one. If it doesn’t make sense and add value to the story, your audience may end up feeling tricked, cheated, or just plain bored.
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Thriller Story Structure: The Complete Series
Known far and wide for his incredible ability to twist plots like no one else, is M. Night Shyamalan. He has directed countless movies and they all include a signature twist. While he is a brilliant mind, not every one of his attempts at plot twists are successful, but he certainly has a few winners. Among the victories is a 2004 film called “The Village.” The story follows a group of people that live in a fully isolated village.
They are surrounded by woods and dare not enter them. Everyone is told that venturing into the woods is a death sentence as they are inhabited by large, vicious, bloodthirsty monsters. The monsters leave them alone if no one enters the woods. The village operates peacefully, and everyone is moderately happy, although always slightly fearful.
In the end we learn that there are no monsters, but the leaders of the town decided that the “outside world” is just too dangerous, and they have vowed to keep this monster story alive to keep their people isolated in these hidden woods. They are essentially holding an entire village hostage for no reason. It is a perfect example of a very subtle punch. The movie is intense, but not action packed. It’s not always fast-paced, and this twist creeps up on you quietly until you’re simply left without words to say.
Another great example is a 2003 movie entitled “Identity.” It features a serial killer main character named Malcolm Rivers. He is on death row, due to be executed within 48 hours. His psychiatrist, Dr. Malick, has called a hearing where he defends Malcolm Rivers and tries to justify the insanity claim that could get the execution postponed. Malcolm Rivers suffers from a multiple personality disorder, and Dr. Malick has created a scenario where all his personalities are going to meet. His hope is that the one personality that is the killer will be revealed and can be eradicated.
Usually, the twist is the dissociative identity disorder itself. Not this time – it is made known to the audience very clearly. As the imaginary scene plays out in Rivers’ head, each personality is slowly being killed off. In the end, we discover that the killer personality is a young boy, and not one of the messed up adult personalities that the movie was focusing on. This is a perfect example of misdirection. The audience spends the entire movie trying to figure out which one of the main characters did it, and no one even gives a thought to the quiet little kid on the sidelines. If you watch closely though, there are some cleverly placed clues that point to the boy.
When done right, plot twists are a fun and exciting way to keep your thriller interesting and engaging right to the end. Whether you twist things around halfway through your story, or you hit them with a shocking reveal at the very end, a successful plot twist will stick in your audience’s mind for a long time.