4 Keys to Crafting an Excellent Plot Twist pt. 1

Before I begin I just want to say that this post ran long so I divided it up into two parts.  Part 2 will be up in a week’s time.

Also, SPOILER ALERT FOR THE SIXTH SENSE if you haven’t seen it already!

The plot twist.  It’s been around for what seems like ever.  To be honest, most of my favorite stories whether they be movies/books/whatever involve some kind of plot twist.  I don’t know what about it strikes me.  Granted, I’ve always been a fan of seeing totally, “normal”, things flipped on their head.  Maybe that’s why I enjoy it so much.

Either way.  The problem with plot twists is that they’re a fickle mistress.  They can either go very, very well, or very, very terribly.

There’s no middle ground with a plot twist.  I’m not sure why it happens like that, but hey it is what it is right?

The point I’m trying to make?  Is that despite it’s fickle nature, once you understand why a plot twist works so well, you can make sure you never fall into any of those pitfalls.

How do you ask?

Focus on these four things:

1. Context

This is where your planning comes in.  If you’re sure you want a plot twist, then you first need to know what your plot twist will be, and two, how your characters will execute this twist.  Why?  Because this builds a frame of reference or a pivotal scene in your story.

This part goes back to all the things I harp on about with character development.  You need to know your characters inside and out for two reasons,

  1. The plot twist needs to fit your characters internal logic and personality.
  2. This helps you avoid that Deus Ex Machina thing I talked about earlier.

Unfortunately, these are the two ways people go wrong with the plot twist.  They don’t make it make sense, at all.

Honestly, I always assumed people did like I used to do.  Get all excited about their story, and they want to make sure that no one ever sees the twist ending coming so that they’ll be so surprised and shocked by the amazing creativity you’ve shown.

Unfortunately, that is the best way for you to write a plot twist that’ll have everyone call foul as soon as it appears.

The only reason a plot twist works, is that you should be able to look back at the entire story and suddenly understand all those subtle little clues that were immediately brushed off or overlooked and go, “Oh my God I should have seen that coming!”

Right now I just want to focus on the character driven part of the plot, the story driven part will come next.

Anyways, whatever plot twist you’re planning you have to make it totally believable for your character’s personality and behaviors.

Example you ask?  I give you Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense.

I know, played out plot twist.  You can only watch the movie once, blah, blah, blah.  While that may hold some truth to it, here’s the point I’m trying to make.

When it came out that Bruce Willis was  a dead man who didn’t know he was dead, to me, it totally made sense for his character.

The entire movie, you see Bruce Willis helping out Hayley Joel Osment’s character as if it was his last chance at redemption.  He keeps saying that most people don’t pay attention to the world around them.  Like how he didn’t pay attention to things at home and that’s why his wife was cheating on him.

He keeps bringing up the fact that he was always a marginally distant person, who used his patients to escape from his actual life.

Well it makes sense that such a distant person would have a hard time realizing he’s dead, no?

What do you mean I have to actually pay attention to my patients....

Wait, I have to actually pay attention to my wife?

Do you see my point?  There are a few other things he drops in there, but at the end of the day, that’s the biggest one.

Also, it uses his wife, “cheating on him”, as an excuse to totally ignore their strange and utterly distant relationship.  Mix that in with clever story telling, and you’ve got a situation that seems slightly odd, but not my husband is dead and he doesn’t know it odd.

Which segues me perfectly to the second part:

2. Foreshadowing

Now like I said before, this is a tricky one.  You see, you don’t want to foreshadow so much that people will instantly scream, “Bruce Willis is dead!”, when he first showed up on-screen in the aforementioned movie.

What you need to do is mix things in that could be taken as a dead give away for the plot twist, but will likely be taken as, “… well that doesn’t make sense.”

The best way to do it, in my humble opinion, is to work things in where they don’t seem out-of-place at all, but this is not always possible.

Why?

Because of the context!  See how it’s all coming together?  Characters have to behave according to their own logic remember?  Honestly, some characters and, by extension the stories built around them, will just never be able to pull this off seamlessly.

Honestly though it’s no big deal if the twist you want doesn’t fit that perfectly in.  True, best case scenario would be you go back and tweak the story just for that purpose, but at the same time I like the appeal of feeling like I’ve totally missed something that is now the equivalent of a neon sign pointing at a spoiler.

It all depends on how you want to go about it.

The key here is subtlety.

Like in the Sixth Sense, you see the movie begin with Bruce Willis being shot by his rambling former patient, but you have no idea of how it could ruin the story.  You see, you really don’t know it’s a ghost story yet, and they don’t even show him die.

It leaves that whole thing up in the air.

Between that vague introduction to the story, and the focus for the rest of the movie being on Osment’s torment it’s easy to overlook any small subtle clues you would have gained from the first few moments.

Looking back, you totally get it, but in the moment your mind totally glosses over it.

Now, like I said above, Part 2 to this post will be up in a week’s time, take some time to think about what I said.

In the mean time what do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Think I’m nuts?

Is there another story you feel had a great plot twist?

Whatever you do think, please make sure to leave your thoughts int he comment section below.

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One response to “4 Keys to Crafting an Excellent Plot Twist pt. 1

  1. Pingback: 4 Keys to Crafting an Excellent Plot Twist pt. 2 | Vincent Alcaras -- Author·

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