Twisting and Turning and Twisting and Turning and…

What a plot twist is is a twist on the plot.  It’s also a change in the generally accepted life of the character, where he or she finds out that something they thought was real really wasn’t.  Plot twists work as inciting incidents for the whole story, or just as little tweaks designed to instill fear and mental indecision in the main character.  Plot twists are anything from “Luke, I am your father!” to “Omigosh, my sister is really an alien from outer space!” to “My shoes don’t fit!”  Basically, a plot twist is a change in what the character thought they knew.  For instance, if the character thinks their coat is pink, a good plot twist would be to have it actually be purple, and so cause the character to ruin her school play.  Good inciting incident, there, if you follow it up with the character then being chased around town by a bunch of rabid green foxes owned and bred by the local baker.  A more major one would be the old classic “The person I thought was dead was actually only mortally wounded, nursed back to health by another person who I thought I had killed last month with an converted potato peeler, and is now taking down the person I’m planning to kill right now, right in front of my nose!  Oh, joy!”  Supposed deaths and resurrections like that are perfect.  That sort of thing pops up in TV shows all the time, where someone gets shot minutes before the end of the episode and the camera goes all fuzzy, leaving you hanging until next week, where they show the person who was shot actually alive again.  Or, the supporting characters having a fake funeral so that the person can actually go undercover into the operations of the antagonist!  Boo-yah!

Where would our plots be without plot twists, though?  They would be straight as a sergeant’s back.  Plot twists are necessary for keeping up the level of interest in a story.  If we didn’t have pl0t twists, what would The Mayor of Casterbridge be?  Nothing.  That’s a book made of plot twists.  Almost all the cliche plot twists in the world began right there.  Unfortunately, it isn’t often that a book made of plot twists is very good.  If you tamper with your character’s and your reader’s knowledge too much, you’ll fail at your mission.  What the mission is, I’m not sure, but you’ll fail.  See, if your summary sounds anything like this…

Jack and Jill went up a hill, which they didn’t realize actually contained the buried remains of the father they had known until age three.  After an ill-fated archeological expedition finds the body, DNA testing finds that Jack and Jill aren’t actually children of that father!  Their father is actually halfway across the world, and their names are actually Gary and Belinda.  But when they find their supposed real father, he doesn’t recognize them, commits suicide, and then comes back a day later saying “Just kidding!  I’m actually your uncle.”  And finally, after all is said and done, they find out that they were actually Jack and Jill all along.  Jack, unfortunately, falls and cracks his head open.  (The first book in the series would end there.  The second one begins with…)  But Jack was really okay, and was just pouring tomato juice over his head to simulate blood.  And they all live happily, and insecurely, ever after.

…I think you’re doomed to failure.  Though plot twists are great, you can’t make a story out of them– in the same way that you can’t make a soup out of oregano.  That’s just seasoning, and without anything substantial you’ve got nothing but a pot full of flavored water on your hands.

I’ve run out of time to say all that I wanted, but stick some plot twists in whatever you’re writing.  They’re great when used well.

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  1. Great, funny post, as always! Jack and Jill must have very confusing lives nowadays. 🙂 I agree that plot twists are good when used in moderation, but I always find incessant “He’s dead! Oh, wait, he’s not. It’s a miracle!”-type twists annoying. I can maybe take one per book.

    • What’s really fun is when the main character thinks he’s killing someone out of kindness, to save him from relentless torturing and such, is tortured in turn by his conscience for a while, and then finally realizes that he actually killed someone who only looked like his friend. Complicated things such as these thrill me to the core, but most twists like this are badly done and cliche as you said.

  2. Seana J. Vixen

     /  April 18, 2012

    This post made me laugh, as usual. That new Jack and Jill plot certainly has its plot twists! And some plot twists can definitely become quite cliche if overused. Of course, it’s bad if there’s no plot twist at all through the whole thing. My latest book review is on my blog, and I gotta say, there was no suspense at all in that story. It was just a bad book. If you want to hear my exact thoughts on that book here’s the link:

  3. I find the sentiment instilled within this writing to be of a nature most veracious. The twist of a plot, so long as it is not a mangling of a plot as was your example of the unfortunate Jack and Jill, is a tool most useful in the hooking of readers like giant fish. In addition, your advice to add such utensils of reader mind boggling to mine own works is quite fitting for the rut I so unhappily find myself in, and I shall keep it within the plot pickling jar of my brain.

    • Indeed. ‘Twill bring great pleasure to all readers of your works. But the best way to use a twist is to stick it in right at the end, so that just when the story is gripping the reader’s mind like a large limpet with a desirable morsel, the metaphorical limpet is twisted around and the reader’s brain with it. Limpets are no fun in reality, but they’re great in literature-speak.

      Who are you, Orik? Gimli? Who uses “mine” like that except a dwarf? (There’s another cliche for you.)

    • True. Though I must admit that I hadst not a fathomable notion as to what a limpet was until I used my Google skills to enlighten myself.
      Now that I have pondered it, there is a phantom resembling a plot twist at the end of my manuscript, though I be not sure whether ’tis any good or not. I shall have to see what group for critiquing says.

      Ah, another cliche I missed. I looketh not for such items, and ’tis always interesting to see where they lurk unseen.

  4. …and spinning?


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