Plot Twists Keep Readers Guessing

Mystery writers know the value of plot twists. They keep readers on their toes and pull the story forward. But what about plot twists in other genres?
Writing Tip for Today: Whether you’re a plotter or a pantster, plot twists are essential to a good novel. Here are some things to consider:

  • Unpredictable Characters Can Be Larger than Life. Your readers appreciate your main character the same way we do in life–in a few words, gestures or actions, we tend to judge others. Yet if your character never does anything to surprise, challenge or lead to discovery, the novel may slow down. We expect characters in whodunits or thrillers to act unpredictably, but even in mainstream, romance or other genres, give your readers a surprise now and again. Especially if the unpredicted action is something which endears your readers. A memorable or selfless action helps create a larger-than-life character.
  • Make Characters Do Their Most Feared Thing. Another way to incorporate unpredictability into your story is to force your characters to do things they’re afraid of. Donald Maass, author of Writing 21st Century Fiction, advises writers to think of what a character fears most and then make them do it. This helps readers connect with emotional landscape of the story, but many writers shy away from conflict or uncomfortable situations. By making a character face tough things, your readers will cheer them on–even if those readers can’t face those things in their own lives.
  • Plot Twists Infuse Energy. When you write your characters doing not the expected but the unexpected, the result is energy. If you think of your story as an engine, then a plot twist or surprise is fuel to propel forward the story. Just be sure the twist will be believable: Your readers have to buy into the idea (i.e. they think, “Yes that character would do this.”) to harness the energy. Red Herrings are ideas which lead the reader down a phony path, but you can only use so many before the reader gives up and stops reading. Let your character do the unexpected, but be sure the plot twist is true to both the character and the story.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

4 comments on “Plot Twists Keep Readers Guessing

  1. Thank you, Linda! Great advice as always, AND especially timely for today’s writing. I’m forwarding to a friend whose struggling with a scene that is went flat. We’ll see if your advice will stir things up. 🙂

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