Plot twists have become somewhat of a phenomenon in pop culture, what with stories like Harry Potter changing the way we read (those darn horcruxes) and movies like Christopher Nolan’s Inception and The Prestige (which was originally a novel by Christopher Priest) changing the way many of us look at film–even denying us the ability to trust what we’re being shown. M. Night Shyamalan’s entire career as a scriptwriter hinges on his ability to craft unprecedented plot twists, and Stephen King makes us flinch at the turn of every page. In today’s writing culture, you have to be able to play into society’s need to be surprised, to let them think one thing and show them another, but that doesn’t always mean you have to leave the top spinning at the end of your story to forever torture the internet or heel turn the entire plot in a single moment of fleeting disclosure.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, said, “Character is plot, plot is character.” In other words, you–the writer–can show us any number of extraordinary things, but if they don’t affect the protagonist then, in the end, those things don’t matter. This varies by genre, such as with fantasy and sci-fi needing that extra world-building. But still, world-building is the history of the world your hero, or anti-hero, lives in. All that to say this: a plot twist can be as small as revealing the priest who leads the local AA meetings drinks a six-pack every night or showing your reader that Grandma Gretchen, the sweet old lady down the street, has a severe lying problem. Giving us these insights part way through the story might change things for us. When we find out that Grandma Gretchen has been lying about needing her wheelchair the whole time, we’ll question everything she’s ever said and done, and we might even speculate that she’s the culprit.
We’ve all heard that old saying, that the devil’s in the details. Those details are the crumbs that a writer leaves behind, giving the reader the idea that they know what’s going on, that they have a picture of the whole cookie. Using the Grandma Gretchen example again–a character I’ve only just made up and am already in love with–the writer might key the reader in that dear old Gretchen isn’t as sweet and truthful as she portrays when she, early on in our plot, forgets where she was on the night that Little Olly went missing. There’s a few crumbs. But she’s a granny, she can’t be expected to remember. And then the reader has their cookie, but while they think it’s a delicious peanut butter, it’s actually an evil oatmeal raisin cookie. There’s no huge, earth-shattering plot twist there, but rather a small character detail that hugely impacts our scope of the plot.
So, when writing your story, remember to live in the details. Even if you’re writing an intimate character portrait, leave something in the shadows for the reader, to have light shed upon it when, and only when, we need to see it. Essentially, remember the human elements: We all lie and hide aspects of ourselves sometimes, and if you stay true to your characters and their flaws, then those little twists will come naturally. Or, you know, you could leave the top spinning at the end. Grandma Gretchen probably would leave it spinning–because she’s evil.
I hope everyone is having a great March so far. Just a quick update on Mordecai Episode II, I’m still editing it and will share some stuff with you soon! For now you can still check out the first book in the series, Episode One: Bloodthirsty here.
See you next week!
Weekly Writing Prompt:
It wasn’t until her friend smiled that she knew what had happened…