So like any other writer on vacation, I’m spending my free time thinking about story-specifically the one I’m hoping to have finished by spring/summer of 2014. (No-not the NaNoWriMo novel. I’m actually putting that one back on the shelf to percolate a little bit until I get some of the plot bunnies sorted out.)
Anyways, in the story I’m working on, the main protagonist has some secrets. Some may or may not be found out throughout the tale yet there is one secret, a rather big one, that is a big part of his character that effects how he interacts with others. In all honesty, this secret could be argued as the main tipping point for his fall from grace. But the problem I had with this main plot point was this:
The story is nearly finished, but I still have no clue what the hero/villain’s “big shocking secret” is.
Nothing like writing with no clue where you’re going, huh?
So late last night as I should’ve been sleeping (ha! Yeah right…) I was instead thinking of a what this character’s big, shocking secret should be. It couldn’t be predictable (that would be boring), but it needed some extra elements that would set it apart in the tale. I wanted it to be big, surprising, something the reader didn’t see coming. But with this being my first big story, I had no clue where to even begin on writing it.
Plot twists, as those big, shocking moments in story are often called, are one of the few gems that can either make or break a good story. Grant it, not all stories have (or need) them, but it’s something that can really make a story stand out. I’m sure we can all identify some great shocks in story that made us scream at the screen, drop our mouth open in surprise, or talk about it for weeks with friends just to figure out what on earth happened. Examples could include the famous “Luke, I am your father” scene from The Empire Strikes Back or the astronaut Taylor finding a crumbling Statue of Liberty on a beach at the end of Planet of the Apes. Recently, the “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones produced a lot of shocked-fan reactions that surfaced on the internet. It became a topic of conversation for days afterwards for even people who did not watch the show. These three stories had plot twists that not only made them good, but soared them to new heights as fans were all left telling each other, “I didn’t see that coming!” or “Now it all makes sense!”
But take a look at stories whose plot twists weren’t very shocking. (Again, I’ll let you insert your own stories here.) I’ve read many books who have fallen prey to this, unfortunately. The beginning was strong, the characters could be related to, even the plot had promise. But when it came to the “big reveal”, the story fell flat. Everything was predictable. The story suddenly became boring. No lessons were learned by the characters and no growth was seen by the end. I recently saw a movie over the summer that fell under this. The beginning was good, the characters showed promise, but the plot twist was so subtle and a bit confusing that I left the theatre thinking I had just wasted a few hours of my time. The movie wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t memorable.
Creating a plot twist can be difficult. It’s easy to make one that’s predictable and boring and a lot tougher to make one that’s going to stand out and make the story shine. As I create my own, my hope and goal is to make one that is far from predictable and will soar the story to new heights. And after looking at some successful plot twists, I find myself asking the following questions about the one I’m writing:
- Will the big reveal come as a surprise or will it be expected?
- Does the plot twist connect to the overall story? If a plot twist makes sense, you will leave your audience with understanding. If a plot twist doesn’t make sense, you will leave your audience with confusion.
- Is the plot twist exciting? Does it leave your readers or viewers wanting more?
- Does it somehow change the story-i.e., does it put it in a new direction, does it change the tale’s perspective, does it push for character growth, or does it tie the story together towards a fitting conclusion?
And if the plot twist can make me want to know more of the story, I can only hope it’ll make others want to know more as well.