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The Twist in the Tale
by Linda Butler
If someone wrote it and it has a peculiar twist, I’ve read it. – Dean Koontz.

Plot twists surprise readers and make enjoyable stories. The reader is misled, and expects one outcome but find that they are mistaken, and another outcome happens. If a twist is successful, the writer must have hidden hints in offhand remarks or in trivial details.

A twist can be lighthearted or humorous, tragic or ironic or based on a misconception. A twist contains an element of surprise that snares the reader because it is unpredictable.  This adds life to a story.
Humor is often the basis for a twist.  In Comedy Writing Secrets by Melvin Helitzer (Writers Digest Books 1987), he discusses Charlie Chaplin and the early movies: “Charlie Chaplin defined surprise in terms of a film scene where the villain is chasing the heroine down the street.  On the sidewalk is a banana peel.  The camera cuts swiftly back and forth from the banana peel to the approaching fall guy.  At the last second, the heavy sees the banana peel and jumps over it—and then falls into an open manhole.” The action points to one outcome but the author gives us another and we are surprised and laugh.

Donald Mass in Writing 21st Century Fiction says: “...twists are things done by unexpected people.  Role reversals, as in betrayal, are one surefire way to create a twist....Skills, knowledge, and back story information can be saved up. Assign that stuff to unlikely characters and you have a mini-twist...Twists can also be small, unexpected moments that catch the reader by surprise. When they do, ordinary scenes can pop alive.”

One suggestion to create an end twist is to work backwards. Start with the twist and then write the beginning.  J.K. Rowling wrote the last chapter of the last Harry Potter book before she started writing the beginning of that book.

James Scott Bell in Plot and Structure, Writers Digest Books, 2004 said: “As you get closer to the end of your first draft, pause and come up with ten alternative endings...Brainstorm...The quicker the better...Come back to your list and take the top four, deepen them a little bit. Let them cook some more...Choose one...that works best as...an added surprise. Figure out how to work that into your ending and then go back to your novel...and plant little clues here and there...There is your twist ending.”

As you add clues to your writing, keep in mind Chekhov’s principle of the “smoking gun”. If you fire a gun in Act III, it must be seen in Act 1, and if you show a gun in Act 1, it must be fired in Act III.  You must show clues so when the reader realizes they’ve been tricked, they are still left satisfied with the ending.  If there are insufficient clues, the reader will feel disappointment.  

Do not reveal the twist too early in the story but remember Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumb trail and leave clues for the reader throughout.  The clues may appear insignificant but if the reader later realizes that they were meaningful, then they will be satisfied with the outcome.

(c) 2013 Linda C Butler




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