Let’s do that twist

I’ve gone on record here before suggesting we don’t always need to have a twist in our stories. Now I’m here to advocate for twists. They can be fun and effective if done well. In fact in some cases your readers will be disappointed if you don’t do it.

I recently read a suspense thriller/horror novel–and for the sake of spoilers I won’t tell you what it was, or anything else that might give it away–that used twists extensively through the book. But there are two specifically I want to mention.

The first was set up nicely by the characters heading into the big finale. In attempting to bring down the antagonist they established that they had only one feasible way to pull it off. That was one we kinda saw coming. When the protagonists go after the bad guy he immediately destroys their one option, then proceeds to kick the team’s collective butt.

Undaunted, the main protagonist fights on coming up with another plan to do in the bad guy. He even engages in some mental brilliance to try and figure out how to trick the bad guy into accepting one specific (and therefore booby-trapped) option out of two choices. We figure it will work–this protagonist is usually spot on with his plans.

Except the bad guy makes a different choice for a consistent, logical reason we should have seen coming but–at least in my case–chose to ignore as irrelevant at the time. We thought the big twist had happened earlier, only to find there was more twisting to be done.

In fact, now that I think about it, there were about half a dozen twists all within a few pages, which really lent itself well to a bang-up ending.

But therein lies the lesson: one standard tool for twists is to reasonably set reader expectations that Plan A or Item 1 is not only the protagonist’s only plan, but the only plan that has a chance of working, and then completely remove that option. The resulting “Oh crap!” reaction from your readers will be something to enjoy.

Even better is when you can reveal a series of twists in a short space of time, further disorienting and shaking up your reader. You’ll then look even more brilliant when you show that you also set up all the pieces for your protagonist(s) to pull out a last-second victory that pays off even more details you planted throughout the story.

As I’ve said before, twists are not always needed–though it’s arguable that some genres rely on them extensively. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be satisfying to the reader if done well. Hopefully this gives you a few ideas on how to sucker your re– I mean, surprise your readers with a good, ground-shaking twist.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.