How to Write a Plot Twist

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book, and you think you know what’s going on until all of a sudden… BAM! Where did that character, event, or weapon come from? Should you have seen it coming? Did you miss something vitally important? It’s only later, when you re-watch or reread this story that you realize what was actually going on — and sometimes, even then, you’re left in the dark until that pivotal moment.

Do you, as a writer, want to write something that makes your readers take a step back and reevaluate everything they knew to be true up til that point? Do you want them to tell their friends to read your book because “the twist is the worst but greatest thing that ever happened”? Then you want to write a PLOT TWIST!

What Is A Plot Twist?

Well, I’m glad you asked!

Imagine a long country road, it doesn’t matter where. It can have trees on both sides, or fields… heck, who are we kidding? It could even run through a town. Can you see it? Good.

Now picture yourself in a car, driving down this road. It’s a beautiful day, you have your windows down (unless you’re like me, then you have the windows up and the AC on). You see a turn coming up ahead and you gently turn the wheel so you don’t run off the road. Ah, yes. The perfect Sunday drive.

Imagine this drive again, but this time let’s change just one minor detail.

It’s nighttime, and your headlights aren’t very strong. You’re doing fine, just following the dotted lines until all of a sudden the road ends in front of you. You jerk on the steering wheel and barely manage to round the corner without skidding into the field (or tree, or city building) waiting for your demise.

Amazingly, both of these analogies describe a plot twist. You see, a plot twist is simply that turn in the road. How people react to it is all about the circumstances leading up to it. You see plot twists in every book, movie, and pamphlet in the world. A plot twist is, simply put, a point where the story turns. It is when that guy who’s in prison breaks out. It’s when that girl goes from 21 years old to 22.

A plot twist is when something in the plot of the story changes. However, when people hear the words “plot twist” they usually think of the more drastic kind. The kind they don’t see coming. This kind of plot twist — which from my experience is generally referred to as a MAJOR PLOT TWIST — is what we’ll focus on. Who wants to talk about boring old plot changes? Not me, and I’m assuming not you, either.

From all I’ve seen, heard, and read, I’ve deduced that there are really 3 kinds of major plot twists. Each is equally different to write and usually just as difficult to decipher when reading. For our purposes here, we will refer to them as the “peek-a-boo”, the “boo”, and the “whammy”.

The Peek-A-Boo Plot Twist

This is probably the easiest of the three to locate. When a writer uses this twist, you generally have a sense that something is wrong for the duration of the story, until they finally tell you what it is. This happens because the writer plants a plethora of clues to what is going on, and they are set in a way that you pick up on them.

A good example of a peek-a-boo twist is found in the movie National Treasure. Ben Gates and company arrive at the underground treasure locale only to get left behind, discover a second door, and find that this new room is also empty. We all know something had to happen at this point because there is not way for them to get out of the underground rooms if they don’t find the treasure room. Besides, they’ve been searching for this darn treasure the entire movie! It would be unfair if they didn’t find it. The plot twist here is that there is yet another door that finally reveals the treasure (and a set of stairs).

This is a peek-a-boo because for just a brief moment we believe they might be stuck down there. When they find the treasure room we are only remotely surprised beccause we knew something was wrong. There was a niggling little voice at the back of our minds telling us that “hey, they’re gonna win”. So we like it because there is a twist, but it isn’t one of those that we have to re-watch a dozen times to fully comprehend.

The Boo Plot Twist

This is a lot like the peek-a-boo, but with a bigger reaction. The writer gives you clues, but there are less of them and they are farther apart. More hidden in the background of the story. A lot of times a “boo” twist will seem like it came out of nowhere, but when you look back you can easily see the clues that led up to it.

A good example of this plot twist is the movie No Way Out. The entire plot is set around a military guy who is in charge of a hunt for a spy named Yuri. The whole hunt is set up to look like this, when really they’re only trying to find a witness to a murder so they can kill him. All along we know that he’s hunting himself, because we know he was the witness. Then, boo! Turns out, he really is Yuri.

We’re surprised much more by this one, because we never anticipated his guilt. He was made out to look like an innocent person the entire movie, and even though we hear about this spy we never – not for a second – think he’s real. After all, he’s a ghost. Right?

This is a simple use of red herrings to redirect your attention off of the important clues that the writer laid the entire story. Going back, you can see where he did things that shouldn’t have settled right with you but did because you believed in his innocence. This is a twist that hooks you and shocks you, but going back to watch it a second time you understand where they got that from.

The Whammy Plot Twist

This is one you don’t see coming. Not at all. You’re going along, having a lovely time, and then all of a sudden your entire perspective is changed. It usually happens all at once and takes some explaining. You’re shocked. You’re scared. And you’re asking yourself, “WHERE IN THE WORLD DID THAT JUST COME FROM?!?

An absolutely fantastic example of this one comes from Next. (*Major SPOILER ALERTS*) We’re going along with it. It’s intense. He can see two minutes into the future. They’re chasing down terrorists and OH MY GOSH they have the girlfriend. We think we have the nuclear weapon when, nope. And just as everyone is about to evaporate from radiation… he wakes up. HE WAKES UP! It was all a vision!!! Where did that come from??? What kind of movie is this?

This is a whammy, because no one saw it coming. There were no hints given other than one mention of the fact that he can “see farther when he’s with her”. No one expected this to be a vision because he looked two minutes into the future at multiple points inside it. And we all ask ourselves what kind of sick, demented person came up with a twist like that. Look again and you’ll still be just as baffled.

This happens because the author gives little to no indication that anything like that is even remotely in the realm of possibilities, or the clues that lead you to the obvious (I use the term lightly) conclusion that the plot twist will happen are buried in things you take for granted.

These are the best plot twists. Let me say it again: THE. BEST.

If they’re done correctly, not only will you have loads of fun writing it, but your readers will come back time and again for more. When these are done right and fit the story perfectly, your audience just can’t stay away. They have to know how you thought that up, when you thought that up, why they didn’t see it coming, and more.

How to Write a Plot Twist

I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I thought for a long time, too. “I can’t write a plot twist like that. Look at all the amazing whammies out there. I’ll never be that good.” Well, guess what? It’s not true!

I’ve found the easiest way to write any plot twist is to work back to front. Think about it: if you know what happens in the end and what the twist is, it makes it so much easier to finagle those clues in earlier.

The best thing you can do to set up a plot twist is to wiggle those little clues in places and conversations the reader will overlook. Make the clues look like pieces of useless information. Trust me, the reader will be so much more impressed when they read through it again and find what you’ve done.

Red herrings are your friends, but let me advise you: don’t make them too obvious. And, on the flip side, sometimes the only way to make a twist work is to make it so obvious that no one thinks it will happen. (I immediately think of Tangled. They tell you what’s going to happen and you’re still shocked.)

Sometimes, small events take place in a book or movie that seem coincidental or trivial, but in reality they are the key to a major plot twist. Things like a minor character dying (or surviving), or a faint glow that periodically shows up. Things that, at the time, will make people ask “what is that?” but will soon be forgotten as the rest of the story overshadows it. That is, until you bring it up again.

Whammies are hard to write because you want to. A lot of times, a truly successful whammy comes when a minor character suddenly walks up to you, says “hey, I’m actually the bad guy”, laughs maniacally, and walks right back into his inconspicuous role. It’s unexpected — even for the writer — but when they reveal this to you, you’re likely to walk around all day thinking about it and getting more excited by the minute.

The best advice I can offer is keep writing. If a twist falls flat, try again next time. Don’t take anything for granted. If your character has a small quirk, ask yourself why. If there’s a mysterious aura, ask yourself what it is. Leave no stone unturned! Who knows if, under that one last upside-down rock, you’ll find the very plot twist you’ve been longing to write.

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Best plot twist you’ve ever written OR Best one you’ve ever read/seen. Go!

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

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How to Write a Narcissist (And, Quite Frankly, Why You Should)

Narcissism: extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.

The term comes from the story of Narcissus, a Greek mythological god who disdained those who loved him and fell in love with his own reflection. (Which, by the way, led him to his death. Let’s not use him as a role model, okay?)

I’m writing this today because I recently found myself writing a narcissistic character in a novel I’m working on. (Also, because I’ve been watching a lot of Marvel movies lately – including Age of Ultron – and, let’s face it, Tony Stark is my perfect example for this post.)

So what’s the big deal about narcissism? And why should I be using it in my novel/movie/short story? And how am I supposed to write a narcissist?

Great questions!

1 – How to write a narcissist

It’s a lot easier than you would think.

Narcissists are completely self-centered. They can take ANYTHING and bring it back around to be about them. You say you’re tired, they talk about how tired they are. You say you ate some Ramen noodles, they tell the story about the time they almost choked on Ramen. Everything is about them and what they like.

I’ll give you one thing: this sounds like it could get really annoying to write. And maybe it can. I don’t know yet, as I actually kind of like my narcissist. (Weird.)

You can use their narcissism to your advantage too. My character works as a Personal Protection Specialist (not something I’d recommend a narcissist for), and it works because he likes the attention he gets when he does his job right. Play with their narcissism. Readers/watchers will love you for it.

2 – Why You Should Put a Narcissist in Your Story

Sub-section A:

Because it’s funny.

Anyone who has watched a movie in which Iron Man/Tony Stark appears knows that narcissism is entertaining. Mix it with a little bit of sarcasm, and it becomes an unforgettable character. Technically, no one should like a narcissist, but it can be done. Stark is a prime example of this.

Sub-section B:

They’re annoying to the other characters.

And everyone knows that annoyance creates conflict between your characters. Conflict is good. Conflict keeps people reading. Can you imagine trying to tell a narcissist something important? For the most part, they’re horrible listeners, and often very impetuous.

“We need a plan of attack.”

“I have a plan. Attack.”

Point. And. Case.

This can be used for the perfect “Divide and Conquer” scene. Use the narcissist to tear your characters apart (but only for a few scenes. We want people to like him, remember?)

Sub-section tres:

They are an automatic candidate for change by the end of the story.

Example: Iron Man

He starts out as a complete narcissist that doesn’t care how business is done. He’s in it for himself, and collateral damage is just that: collateral damage.

But then he changes.

He starts to see what his weapons are doing to other people, and a funny thing happens. He starts to care. He starts to look beyond himself and see that his actions affect everyone around him. And he changes to help those people out. He tries to break out the scientist that helped him build the first suit, and he stops to go back for him when he’s injured.

This doesn’t fit classic narcissism. And it shouldn’t. This is compassion, and everyone is capable of it. Even your narcissist.

Narcissists are fun, but remember they are people too. Despite their outward demeanor, they feel things deeply. And they ARE capable of change. Everyone is. They’ll probably end up being your tearjerker character. Use wisely.

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So, two things this week. 1) Do you love Iron Man as much as I do? And 2) Have you used a narcissist before, and if not will you do so in the future? Why?

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.

Meet the Muse

Have people ever asked you how (or where) you got the idea for your story, and all you could say was “I honestly do not know”? Perhaps this is because you were visited by what we writers affectionately dub “The Muse”. “The Muse” is a helpful, often unexpected guide that shows us exactly the direction our story should go. Like a guiding angel for us writing-obsessed mortals known as “authors”.

As I’ve written and written and written and then talked to others about writing… and written some more, I have noticed some interesting things about “The Muse”. First of all, “The Muse” is almost always unexpected, as though we don’t think it can happen twice. Secondly, it usually comes in a “lightbulb!” moment where you suddenly know exactly what to write and how to do so. But the most interesting thing I’ve learned about “The Muse” is that it often comes in the form of each individual writer’s learning style.

For those of you who don’t know about learning styles, I’ll explain as I go along.

There are 3 major learning styles, and then variations that mix those three. “The Muse” can show up in any of them. I will use digital props to illustrate my point. (You’re welcome.)

“The Muse” #1 – Visual

Prop1 Prop2

(photos courtesy of my Pinterest account, the original owners are specified in the links there)

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If you are a visual learner, more than likely “The Muse” just visited you. A visually inspired person will see pictures, such as these, and immediately their brain will fly into action. “That’s my character!” “What if _______ did _______ there?” “I bet she’s looking at/for/toward ________.”

Congrats! I am proud to say I am one of these wacky people known as visual learners. I see pictures of film and think “What if?” Which generally leads to a fantastic new story idea that I can’t get down on paper fast enough.

If pictures are your muse, don’t fight it. Storyboard EVERYTHING! Trust me, it helps.

“The Muse” #2 – Audio

If you listened to this and immediately got a ton of story ideas for something really epic, “The Muse” visits you via what you hear! Be it a conversation overheard in a restaurant or a song that sparks a novel, you’re an audio learner!

Congrats again! I also belong to audio learners. (I am almost exactly 50/50 audio and visual.) When you hear a song and want to write a story based on it, don’t be shy! You won’t get sued. It’s “based on” not word-for-word.

My advice to you: soundtrack everything. Every time you’re writing have a playlist with music that fits the tone and message of your book and have it on shuffle and repeat. You won’t regret it, and it will actually make your writing better in the long run.

“The Muse” #3 – Kinesthetic

I will admit, I do not belong to this camp so it is hard for me to pin down what inspires you. I can hazard a few guesses though.

Since Kinesthetic learners need to be DOING something in order to learn (walking, dancing, tapping thier toe, rubbing their earlobe) chances are you’re inspired by actions in other people, or something you do yourself.

Exemplar gratis: Someone does an awesome parquour move and you think “what if my character did that in order to _________?” You’re probably Kinesthetic. You overlap into audio and visual depending on what you’re doing at the time, but you’re always cool and have a unique sense of how you see the world.

In conclusion, embrace “The Muse” and let it guide you. Don’t shy from doing things that help inspire the story within you. And always, ALWAYS, be yourself.

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So, which one are you? Or are you an example of a crossover? I’d love to hear your “Muse” experiences.

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Did you like what you read today? Do you have questions, comments, or cat-killing curiosity about something? If so, please either comment on this post or visit the Contact page and drop me a note!

It was good to have you as a visitor today! Please drop by again, or become family by following the Write Knowledge. Thank You.