Every reader knows that point at the tail end of a suspenseful book. The danger appears to have passed, the story is wrapping up, and you’re taking a big sigh of relief finally after two hundred plus pages of tension. But wait… what’s this… all of a sudden the protagonist’s best friend grabs a knife and stabs the lead witness. For a second you’re just confused, you go back and read that last paragraph to confirm that you read it correctly. Then you sit for a second, too stunned to continue. You pace back and forth in your room, a combination of anger and excitement coursing through your veins. You can’t believe you didn’t see it coming, but it still somehow makes perfect sense. Here are some tips on how to execute a twist that leaves your readers both in shock and awe.
1) Decide On a Twist
Whether it be that a character who appears good is secretly a murderer or someone was roped into helping to steal a priceless artifact, you’ll need to figure out what the twist of your story will be. The key thing to remember, though, is that the information itself isn’t the ‘twist’, it’s a crucial piece of action that is backed up by the information.
So, for example, let’s say your twist is that the murderer of your story is secretly a close friend of the protagonist. You must have them reveal themselves through a choice like killing someone in front of your protagonist. Having them monologue the information isn’t a twist, this is what backs up and supports a twist that has already occurred.
Ultimately, before you begin writing your story, you’ll need to decide what the twist will be, the story behind the twist, and how it will be revealed through action.
2) Plot Out Your Story
Next, you’ll need to plot your story in order for it to make sense both from the perspective of knowing and not knowing what the twist will be. You have to make sure the story is logical while your readers are still in the dark, and then also when the shocking twist reveals itself.
If your twist involves a certain character in the story being unlike their outer persona, you’ll need to plot the whole story from both your protagonist’s perspective and theirs. What do they do throughout that alleviates them from suspicion until the end? Why are they doing what they’re doing? Who are they really?
3) Scatter Clues Throughout
As you’re going into writing your story, it can be helpful to leave tiny little almost imperceptible hints throughout. For example, let’s say the murderer is murdering people he feels are responsible for the death of his brother. The protagonist could notice him always wearing a certain gold chain around his neck and later this could be revealed to have come from his brother and serves as a symbol of his dedication to avenging him.
This is a detail that doesn’t feel suspicious in the slightest upon reading so your readers would have no reason to be suspicious, but it also aids the later reveal and shows that you put thought into it if you included this detail early on.
4) Focus On the Choices
As we stated earlier, choice is the key to executing a twist. Therefore you must not only focus on the choice that will eventually reveal the twist, but also the choices being made throughout. This is tricky because it involves a balancing act of sorts. You want the character surrounding the reveal to not be someone under suspicion because otherwise, the twist won’t feel very surprising. At the same time, however, you want their behavior and choices to make sense from the POV of the twist reveal.
It can be helpful to perhaps have a scene that shows them at one scene while the ‘killer’ is on the loose, thereby making it seem as though they’re beyond suspicion. And then you’d later reveal that they did this to throw the police off the scent. Make sure you’re plotting your story well and making sure that all of this person’s movements make sense from every POV while also not allowing them to become an obvious object of suspicion.
As much as you want to believe you’ll nail this on the first try, something this intricate takes multiple drafts. Don’t beat yourself up when the threads inevitably get too tangled or when you hand your first draft to your editor and they notice several areas with plot holes. You need all of the threads to fit together perfectly in order to execute that moment that combines surprise, awe, and satisfaction known as the twist.