What I’ve Learned from NaNoWriMo (Weeks 1 & 2)

Fourteen days in. Fourteen. Whole. Days.

Amazingly, I’ve only missed writing on ONE day so far. Usually I’m doing pretty horribly by now. That still leaves me with almost 2,000 words to make up. Joy.

Anyway, on to what I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo this year. Going on the last two weeks alone, I have learned one very important thing as I’ve worked my way from 0 words to almost 23,000. And that one thing is this:

Push through the pain!

I say this because, even though 1,667 words a day doesn’t sound like TOOOOO many, I’ve been having a really hard time getting that many out. Usually, I hit around 1,100 and the words dry up. My mind goes blank. I have no idea where the story is going next.

And that, my creatives, is where I have had to learn to push through the pain.

Those last 600 words can be terrifying and excruciating, but it hasn’t failed yet to be the best part of everything I’ve written. When you finally push through that wall that stands before you, you find jewels on the other side. A secret letter, an unexpected in jury. A love you didn’t know existed for your character. An amazing best friend.

Though it is so difficult to think past writer’s block, I’m learning!

Sometimes it’s easier than other. Sometimes I have to use a writing prompt (and, yes, that’s okay!) Sometimes I have to sit and ask myself “what could go wrong here?” and then write it down. (This is how I end up with things like helicopter chases. Who knew?!)

So, even if you’ve hit that wall. That writer’s block craziness! Just push through the pain and find the treasure on the other side. It will be worth it in the end.

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Do you love your stories? I’m sure I would too! This week, I’d love to hear either A) your summary, or B) Your first page of a recent story. I can’t wait!

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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.

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4 Lessons About Writing From “Hoodwinked!”

For those of you who are now wondering what in the world “Hoodwinked!” is, I will explain. “Hoodwinked!” is not only fun to say, (go on, try it!) but is also an animated movie from the early 2000s. The premise? To learn the “true” story of Little Red Riding Hood, a tale distorted by time. (Let it be noted that I know a lot of people who don’t like this movie, but I happen to think it’s pretty awesome and will continue to like it despite protests.)

There are tons of lessons we can learn from fairytales themselves, but that’s a blog post for another time. In this case, we’re taking lessons from the movie loosely based on the fairytale. They are completely different. So…

#1 – No Character is an Island Unto Himself

It’s true folks, this movie made me sit up and see the light on that point! No character exists in his own little bubble. All their lives interconnect, even when they don’t realize it.

There are several characters in “Hoodwinked!” who, at the beginning, seem random and unessential. Until you start to figure out the story behind the story. Suddenly, you realize these characters aren’t random and they are very essential to understanding what’s going on in the Forest. They bring with them a depth the story wouldn’t have had if they had been left out.

So don’t underestimate those characters that just happen to show up for a brief scene. What if they’ve crossed paths with your hero or villain (or both!) in the past? What if they know more than they’re telling? Think about how their life connects with the other characters’ lives, then see what depth your story has just developed.

#2 – Nothing Should Ever Be As It Seems

“Hoodwinked!” has one major writing advantage to other kids’ movies. Nothing turns out like it seems.

That crazed axe murderer? Not a crazed axe murderer at all. Granny floating through the clouds? Logical explanation. A seemingly random avalanche? Not random at all.

When writing, we should remember that people make assumptions, and those assumptions are usually very wrong. Don’t let your characters figure things out too quickly. Let them assume what they just saw was something completely different than what it actually was. It makes for conflict, and conflict makes for a great story.

#3 – Villains Aren’t Always Cut-And-Dried, Sometimes They’re Cunning

I won’t give the spoiler on this one, but the villain isn’t who you think it is. He’s unassuming. He’s a friend. But, behind the scenes, he’s orchestrating everything to make it look like someone else did it.

Villains don’t always seek the attention. Sometimes they’re villainous because they DON’T want the attention. They want someone else to take the fall so they can pick up the pieces and make a profit. Think outside the box when it comes to villains. Let them be someone you don’t think a villain normally is. Surprise us by twisting the story around until the REAL villain jumps out and says, “You didn’t see that coming?”

#4 – Keith Is Not A Scary Name

“…And Keith… get a scarier name. Really, who’s going to be afraid of a guy named Keith? ‘Ooh, I’m so scared, it’s… Keith.’ ‘Everybody look out, here comes… Keith’.”

The longer you think about it, the more you realize he’s right. Keith is just not a scary name. Friendly, maybe, and totally hero-sidekick-available. But not scary. Because of this movie I now realize I can never name a villain… Keith. This is a very important lesson, folks. Be sure to give your villain a scary name like Gunter or Nash or Vadislev. Not… Keith.

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Have you seen this movie and will you fangirl with me? BONUS QUESTION: Can you spot the Marvel Cinematic Universe reference in this post?

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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!

The Power of Prose

Words are magical.

I mean, think about it. With a simple turn of phrase, we can make people see exactly who, what, or where we want them to. With one carefully placed word, we can turn a sentence from sweet to creepy or vice versa. There isn’t much that our words CAN’T do.

I know, better than most, that this puts a huge weight of responsibility on our shoulders. What if we choose the wrong word? What if the word we pick isn’t strong enough? What if we fail to make it come across as we see it in our head?

All valid questions.

The answer is: we never know if we’ll have the desired effect until we let others see our work.

I know, it’s a Debbie Downer. But, the good news is that there are things we can do to make sure we get our point across exactly as we want it to come across. Let me ‘splain.

For those of you who write Suspense or Thrillers, you’ll want to know how to heighten suspense in your scenes. Thankfully, I have a pretty good idea how Suspense works, so here’s my number one suggestion to create the suspenseful scene you’re looking for. Ready?

Use short sentences.

That’s it. The shorter the sentence, the more clipped the feel of the scene. And don’t just use short sentences in your narrative, throw some into your dialogue as well. Fragments are welcome in a suspense scene, because it inherently tells your reader that something is terribly wrong. (Despite what people think, anyone who paid attention in English during middle school subconsciously knows their grammar.)

For those of you who write Romance (or any sub-genre thereunder), you’ll probably want to know how to show your readers how sweet one or the other person is without being super cheesy. So, my number one advice:

Use body language.

“In my writing? Really?”

Yes. Really. Over half of the ways people express how they’re really feeling is in their body language. Do they have a nervous tick? Do they have a habit of reaching to push the girl’s hair behind her ear? Anything like that can add loads of layers to a scene and, ultimately, a story. This is one of those instances where “Show, Don’t Tell” comes in really handy. Don’t tell your readers he likes her. Show them by his actions. Just like real people.

So, you romance writers, go plug in your favorite Rom-Com and take notes on how he shows he loves her.

For those of you who write Historical, you’ll want to know how to keep your facts straight.

Google.

There is nothing better. Oh, and for heaven’s sake, please find out if the words you choose for them to speak were actually spoken in your time period. Please. I’m begging you. It’s a pet peeve of mine.

For those of you who write Fantasy…

Okay, I’m sorry, I’ve got nothing for you. It’s all in your head. As I am not a fantasy writer, I can’t give advice on the subject, except to say pay attention to your plot holes.

So, advice for the day, pay close attention to your genre and READ, READ, READ!!!

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What genre do you write and what’s your favorite part about it?

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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

Keep Your Eyes Open

Okay, guys, I’m soundtracking this one. In 3… 2… 1…

Why this theme? For one simple, very good reason.

The best piece of writing advice I have ever gotten came from a book I read recently. What was this sage piece of wisdom? Let me share it with you: “Don’t look away.”

Three simple words that changed my story method forever.

Why, you ask? Because until that point, I had been looking away. Away from embarrassing moments. Away from painful moments. Away from moments that could make you cry they’re so wonderful or could make you cry for other reasons. I had been stopping before I hit reality. And what’s the one thing every writer must bring a touch of to their story? That’s right. Reality.

As writers, our first and most important job is to tell a story. But our second most important job is to not look away from those everyday moments that make life… well… life. How are we supposed to bring readers to their knees or make them swoon or laugh or cry if we look away before the full effect takes place?

I’m not just talking about when we’re researching, either. Yes, it’s good to watch an entire moment play out before you, but the whole point of keeping your eyes open is so you can write it accurately. What does the audience gain if you end a touching (thrilling, tear-jerking) scene before its full conclusion, or if you skip the parts you think are “too emotional”.

Answer: nothing.

I know it’s difficult to write and it drains you emotionally, but I beg of you to put in those raw emotions. That’s what makes your characters real.

Is she heartbroken? Show her sobs.

Is he angry? Show his rage. ALL of it.

Study body language and psychology. See what makes your characters tick and how they react to a situation that throws them out of their comfort zone. It’s okay to do this! You know why? Because the second best piece of advice I’ve gotten is: “Kill your darlings.”

Don’t be so attached or so fearful for a character that you just can’t hurt them. Reality, remember? Everyone gets hurt, that’s the horrible truth. Hearts break, people lie or miscommunicate, and everyone has bad days. Just look around you. That girl sitting in the corner Starbucks booth all alone? What’s her story? That busboy in the restaurant that you pay absolutely no attention to – Why does he work there? The mom with three little kids in the grocery store – Is she alone or did she choose to be by herself?

Why?

That is the biggest question you should ever ask yourself. Why do things happen around you? Why are people where they are at this moment. Listen for the stories and when you find them: Don’t. Look. Away.

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What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

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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

Memorable Moments

Memorable moments in a book or movie are the things that keep people talking about it for years to come. My family and I divide them into two (unspoken) categories. 1: Great Scenes. 2: Quotables.

Great scenes are those moments in a movie or book where no one is speaking, but awesome things are going on. It’s the scene from Up! where you learn Ellie and Mr. Frederickson’s entire life story without a single word. It’s the tear-jerking scene in Becoming Jane where she leaves her true love so his family won’t starve. It’s the scene in Sahara where Rudy smuggles himself back over the border.

Scenes that make you laugh, cry, or throw things. Yet they usually don’t say a word. They are completely visual.

These kinds of scenes are important for movies, but they are SUPER important for books too! If you don’t have something that’s going to capture attention, people will stop reading/watching. And no one wants that.

An example from one of my works-in-progress:

Arkin runs across the brown, rocky surface, heading for the ledge on which Boden stands. A warrior leaps for him, but Arkin draws his broadsword and cuts him down.

Several more follow.

Boden leaps from his ledge and lands deftly on the ground before Arkin.

Swords entangle. Armor creaks as they battle.

Colors flash in the air behind Arkin, sparking and subsiding, quicker with every second.

Boden drops to one knee.

A round, shell-like disc falls from Arkin’s belt and clatters on the rocks at the same time the colors behind him become constant.

Arkin is pulled backward, through the wormhole. A small, bug-eyed creature on the ground is sucked up as well.

How do you create a great scene like this? I don’t have one specific answer. I can tell you that it should be detailed, and use emotion! Anger, hurt, humor. Great scenes are often those that break the tension surrounding people in the story. On the other hand, they can also be the scene that turns someone down a mistaken path. Maybe they get too angry at that best friend who’s telling them their boyfriend is an idiot. Maybe they don’t like to be told what to do, so they do the opposite and it’s entirely stupid. Whatever you choose, make it pivotal. Make it something your fans will talk about for eternity.

Quotables are just that. Quotable. Lines that we sit around and spout to each other, discuss, or even throw into everyday conversation. Some examples from other’s work:

“Please be a secret door, please be a secret door, please be a secret door!” (Door opens from wall) “Yay!”

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“I’ve got some bad news about your boat sir…” (explosion noise)

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“You think you can mess with my mother?” (As he’s totally beating the crap out of his arch nemesis)

I’ll admit, these are kind of lines mixed with action, but that’s because those are usually the best. Exemplar:

Arkin presses the button on the toaster down, and Emma applauds.

EMMA

                     You made toast!

She hugs his neck. Arkin tosses his head back and laughs. The sound fills the entire apartment.

(Background: he doesn’t cook. Anything.)

Making something quotable is the fastest way to get people to tell others about your book or movie. Why? Because if it’s quotable, they’ll quote it. Then their friends will ask what it’s from, and they’ll get the answer “This awesome book/movie about (your plotline here). Oh my gosh! You haven’t read/watched this? You should totally read/watch this!”

I’ll give you, it’s hard to just come up with something quotable on the spur of the moment. Usually it arises from the situation in your story. Yes, it can be hard, but it’s totally worth it. So what are you waiting for? Go write something quotable today!

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I want to know either your favorite quotable or one you wrote yourself. Ready?… 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!

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

Writers are Weirdoes

Is it just me, or do people think writers are really weird?

Point and case:

“…and then, (insert character name here) just turned on him. And I was like ‘whaaat’?!”

“Wait, who’s (character name)? I don’t know anyone by that name.”

“Oh, s/he’s my newest character.”

“…But don’t you control what they do?”

Silly normal person! They should know better, right? Which is why we have friends that are also writers because we can talk like that with them and they UNDERSTAND! This is why it is important to have those friends. (Also point and case, my friend Amy L. Sauder has a blog where she is asking her characters how to solve life’s problems. You should check it out.)

Another dilemma: our overexuberant love for notebooks and pens. We see the aisle, we get distracted, we come home with fourteen sacks full of writing tools. It’s a thing, and I know I’m not the only one who does it. I have it narrowed down to the best kind of pen and the perfect width of lined paper.

Still more writerly quirks: Our excessive and often unfettered adoration for all things both lyrical and well-writ.

To be honest, I can probably blame Shakespeare for this one. I love to write with big words and in Old English. I understand the meaning of words such as “anon”, “Heretofore”, and “wherewithal”. Seriously, I sometimes read Shakespeare’s plays for fun. Because I love them. Call me crazy, do what you will, but it’s true. (Shout out to “Much Ado About Nothing”, especially Beatrice’s “if I were a man” speech. And the “dear lady disdain” argument! Anyway, moving on.)

I’ll write about one more insane quirk. Here it comes… The things we’ll do for research.

“Why are you jumping out of a plane with a parachute full of holes?”

“… … … -shrug- Research.”

OR

“Is that a leech in your refrigerator?”

“No, don’t touch that!”

“Why?”

“Research.”

We are worse than Sherlock Holmes when it comes to research experiments. We will subjugate ourselves to terrible pain and sorrow to find out what it’s going to be like for the characters we love so dearly. Oh, and did I mention that the more you love that character, the more you torture them (and, by proxy, yourself)?

Some wacky (not as bad as the examples) things I’ve done for research:

1. Googled “how to make a bomb”, “how to make poison look like an accident”, “how to commit the perfect crime”… seriously, if anyone looks at my Google history, it will be questionable.

2. Stood on the edge of a table to see how it feels to be on the edge of a roof.

3. Used Nerf guns to try out a theory I had for a fight scene. (My brother was the guinea pig)

4. Played with knives in the kitchen.

5. Other extraneous questionable methods.

So, writers are weirdoes. So what? Be weird. Do the zany stuff that makes you stand out. One day people will speak of your genius! (Again, I’ve been watching Shakespeare)

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What crazy things have you done in the name of research?

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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

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!

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