If you’re anything like me, you love a story that has a surprise plot twist that makes you wonder how the writer tricked you so easily.
As writers, a plot twist is one of the best devices we can use to build tension, reveal character details, and switch up the direction of the plot. Adding your own plot twist to a story or novel is no easy feat; readers aren’t easy to trick.
You’re probably wondering, “How do I write a great plot twist readers won’t see coming?”
In this article, you’ll learn how to write your own plot twists, which types are best for different stories, and some plot twist examples.
What Is a Plot Twist?
A plot twist is an unexpected plot point that changes the direction of the story. It doesn’t need to appear in any specific part of the plot, but it needs to be set up correctly. A good plot twist is something a reader doesn’t see coming.
While your twist needs to be a surprise, it needs to be inevitable. If your reader goes back through the story so far, they need to be able to identify the clues you cleverly hid in the details.
We expect plot twists in certain genres, such as mysteries, thrillers, and crime stories. Writers in these genres use twists to keep the reader guessing about who the criminal might be and whether the protagonist will beat the antagonist at the end.
However, plot twists aren’t limited to only crime genres. You’ll find incredible twists in romance, fantasy, and literary novels. Beth O’Leary used a plot twist in her romance novel The No-Show to reveal an important character detail, which surprised readers, but it was crucial to the plot.
Types of Plot Twists
There are three types of plot twists that can appear in any genre type. These types are the revelation, unexpected consequences, and misdirection.
In a revelation twist, the writer presents new information that changes the direction of the plot from that moment. Your character might discover they have been betrayed. An unreliable narrator could realize they’ve been naive and start seeing the world differently.
Unexpected consequences mean your character enters a key scene expecting the events to go one way, but then something completely different happens. A great example is in The Picture of Dorian Gray. When Dorian goes to check the painting, thinking he has redeemed himself, he discovers the painting looks even worse than before.
Misdirection is a great twist that tricks your reader into believing the main characters have resolved their conflict, but then something shows the assumption was wrong. This is great for mysteries when the killer appears to be caught, and then the actual murderer appears.
3 Tips on How to Write a Plot Twist
In order to write a good plot twist, there are some important tips to follow that will ensure you’re keeping your readers surprised and satisfied.
Tip 1: Build Your Twist From the Beginning
Building your twist into the entire story from the beginning means it’ll have the impact you’re aiming for. A great example of this is Fight Club, where we are introduced to Tyler Durden from the opening scene in the book, when we’re given the first set of clues that set up the revelation.
Don’t let your great plot twist idea appear out of nowhere. When the reader discovers the big reveal, you want them to kick themselves for not noticing sooner.
If you want your twist to be a random act of God, a change of fate, a natural disaster, or that a part of the story was a dream, you need to make sure your setup is perfect to ensure the reader accepts it as plausible.
Most writers who want to include a plot twist will write the plot backward from that moment when planning the story. This allows the story development to feel natural.
Tip 2: Bury Your Plot Twist Clues
Plot twists need to be a surprise, otherwise they’re just not going to impress anyone. You’ve just created the list of clues that need to be included for your twist to make sense. Now you need to bury them in the writing until you’re ready for the reader to find them.
Action scenes are perfect places for you to drop in clues because your reader is distracted by what’s happening in the scene. The details might seem irrelevant, but they’ll become important at the moment of the plot twist.
You can also use misdirection to lead the reader toward the wrong assumption, but you’ll need to make sure the deceit isn’t obvious. Also, don’t send your reader to too many dead ends, or they’ll give up guessing.
Tip 3: Avoid Using Cliché Twists
If there’s something worse than a twist that doesn’t make sense, or that we saw coming a mile off, it’s a twist we’ve seen a million times.
The best plot twists are impressive and memorable the first time we read them. Therefore, it’s so easy to spot them if someone else is gearing up to use it in their writing. Readers develop a sixth sense about twists, so you can’t fool them.
Some examples of cliché plot twist ideas include:
The antagonist was really the protagonist’s father.
None of it ever happened because it was just a dream.
There was only ever one hero that could save the day, and it turns out it’s the protagonist.
Someone faked their death and returned later to save the day.
8 Plot Twist Ideas:
Here is a list of eight plot twist ideas you can use for plot twists.
1. Your Protagonist Is Betrayed by Their Close Friend
A betrayal will test your main characters’ relationships. You can drop hints that the friend has their own agenda, but no one thought they would do something as horrible as this.
2. A New Character Appears
New characters can challenge your protagonist and ruin the plans they’ve set up in the story so far. The character can’t magically appear, so it’s best to have another character mention them in a previous scene before the surprising reveal, when they show up in person.
3. The Antagonist Announces Their Love for the Main Character
A new love interest can be a twist in most stories, but if it’s the protagonist’s enemy, it’s going to surprise everyone. To make this one work, try using an unreliable narrator who makes the antagonist appear to be someone with a bitter heart who could love no one.
4. The Main Character Makes a Mistake
Mistakes happen, so this is a realistic plot development, but the importance is making sure the stakes involved are huge. What does the mistake cost the main character? Despite all their efforts, were they destined to make this mistake the entire time?
5. The Main Character Fails to Defeat the Antagonist
If it looks certain your protagonist will defeat the antagonist, you can build a twist at the midpoint of your story to create a false defeat. You can even use this twist to create a tragic ending to the story, as most readers will expect a happy ending.
6. A Flashback Reveals an Important Detail to the Reader
You could write a flashback scene that reveals details only the reader gets to see, but the protagonist is none the wiser. This creates tension for the reader as they wait to see when the protagonist will find out that information.
7. The Criminal Gets Poetic Justice
Poetic justice is something your reader expects the antagonist to get, but it could be a surprise when it happens if you set it up correctly.
8. A Minor Twist Is Followed by a Bigger Twist
You can use a small twist, such as the revelation of some key information, to distract the reader from a bigger twist.
For example, in a thriller, your protagonist could find out the killer’s DNA belongs to her best friend’s husband (small twist). When she tries to call her friend's phone to warn her, the husband answers the phone in the same room as the protagonist (big twist).
How ProWritingAid Can Help You Write Good Plot Twists
Poor writing can undermine all your hard work to create great plot twist ideas. You don’t want your reader distracted by a spelling mistake or a sentence that doesn’t sound right. You can use ProWritingAid to fix these issues in your writing.
ProWritingAid has 20+ writing reports you can use for editing your story. You can set which writing style and genre your story is before you run the reports. This will ensure you see suggestions relevant to your genre.
Use the Readability report to ensure you’re not overcomplicating your writing to hide your clues. Just because your plot twist is clever, it doesn’t mean you need to write hard-to-read sentences.
The Echoes and All Repeats reports will help you identify how often you have included certain words and phrases. If they are key clues for your plot twist, you might not want them to appear too often, as your reader will pick up these phrases, and it’ll ruin the surprise.
I hope you enjoy writing your unexpected plot twists and editing your story with ProWritingAid.