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  • Writer's pictureJenna Moreci

10 WORST Ways to Write a Plot Twist

HelloOoOo everybody!


Today we're talking about plot twists and how to fuck ’em up. A plot twist is an unexpected development in a storyline. And often, they're a big hit. Plot twists are exciting. They intensify the stakes. They keep readers engaged and invested–if they're written well, that is.


A crappy plot twist can have the opposite effect. They upset the reader, confuse them, and can even ruin the reading experience. Unfortunately, this is really common and it's in large part due to some bad writing advice floatin’ around the community. You're not writing a plot twist to be an edge lord. Like every other facet of your story, your plot twist is there to benefit the plot. Because I'm tired of reading shitty plot twists, I'm breaking down the ten worst pieces of advice when it comes to pullin’ a fast one on your readers.


I'm sure you've seen some of this advice, and it's bad. So, so bad. Writers, pay close attention to this post. Read it five times if you have to. And don't implement any of this advice, okay? Your readers will thank you.


Now, I’m breaking down the ten worst tips for writing a plot twist. It is the perfect topic to cover today because I may have a chapter all about plot twists in Shut Up and Write the Book. Let's get to it!



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Number 1: Ditch the Foreshadowing

You don't want people to see the plot twist coming. “That means no foreshadowing,” said idiots all over the world. A good plot twist may be unpredictable, but a great plot twist will have readers thinking, “How did I miss that!?”


You only achieve that reaction through light foreshadowing. Or, as I call it, scattering breadcrumbs. Leave very small, subtle hints throughout the text, typically in scenes and moments where the reader’s attention is directed elsewhere. Then comes the plot twist and suddenly these brief instances become glaringly obvious. So much so that readers are thinking, “How did I not notice that the first time around?” A lot of writers are afraid to leave breadcrumbs because they’re worried that readers will predict their plot twist. But zero foreshadowing does you no favors.


Zero foreshadowing does you no favors.

Number 2: Wing It

Sometimes writers like to make up their plot twists as they go. And as readers, we can tell because it doesn't make any fucking sense. A lot of writers recommend figuring out the plot twist as you write it. You don't know the answer until the reader knows. But the thing about plot twists is, as we've already covered, there's usually some semblance of foreshadowing involved–which means you have to plan. All those breadcrumbs need to add up!


The missing pieces need to come together in a perfect puzzle. This doesn't happen if you make shit up as you go. Usually, when this kind of twist is written, it reads as shoehorned in, as if the author themself doesn't understand it. Even pantsers I know have an end goal in mind when they're writing their plot twists. That way, they can prepare for it as they write the story. If you're just as clueless as the reader, trust me, it shows.


Number 3: The More Complicated, the Better

The bad guy isn't the ex-boyfriend. It's actually the ex-boyfriend’s dad's cousin’s dentist’s lawyer, who has partnered with the grandma’s cat's neighbor. Makes sense, right? Typically, overly complicated plot twists appeal to writers for one of two reasons.


One, the more complicated the plot twist, the harder it is to predict. The problem is you're sacrificing clarity for unpredictability. Sure your readers didn't see it coming, but they don't understand it now that it's here.

And two, complicated plot twists are often a result of the previous point: winging it. The author didn't have a plan going in, so the only way they could make the plot twist work and line up all the pieces was to make it crazy complicated. Unfortunately, now readers are spending so much time trying to understand your plot twist that they don't have any time to get emotionally invested, which sort of defeats the purpose. It's hard to get invested in a plot twist when you have no idea what the fuck is going on.


Number 4: Shock Value or Bust

Plot twists are designed to be unexpected, which means their sole purpose is to provide shock value, right? Wrong! Yes, a good plot twist can be shocking, but it should not be shocking solely for the sake of it. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. Every plot point needs to move the story forward. That goes for the plot twist too.


You can't write a plot twist solely to surprise readers. That's not exciting, it's cheap. And it's obvious when this is the case because the twist doesn't provide any value to the story. It didn't change the trajectory of the plot. It didn't affect the character arcs. You just dropped a bomb on your readers for no reason. That's not shocking, it's just stupid. You're wasting your reader's time and insulting their intelligence.


Number 5: Break the Rules

Sometimes writers claim that the best way to write a plot twist is to break the rules. This could be subverting tropes or flipping cliches on their head. I am all for this practice, provided you're not breaking your reader’s trust. There are some expectations you need to adhere to in order to qualify for a particular genre. If you break those rules, you are now breaking your promise to the reader.


For example, if you are writing a romance and the plot twist is the death of the love interest, you're gonna piss your readers right off. Why? Because romance novels are required to have a happily ever after. You are breaking your genre promise to your readers, and that's not exciting, it's just aggravating.


Similarly, if you're marketing your book as a tragedy, and the plot twist is, “It was all just a nightmare. Everything's gonna be okay.” That's not a twist, it's a slap in the face. When you categorize and blurb your book, you're setting expectations and your reader is picking up that book with those expectations in mind. Your plot twist shouldn't betray the promise you've made to your reader. If it does, you've fucked up.


Number 6: Give the Reader No Opportunity

This is another tactic writers utilize in order to prevent their plot twists from being predictable. Can't predict the plot twist if the answer is something that readers have never heard of! Say you're writing a whodunit story, and readers think the bad guy is the grandma. Plot twist, the bad guy’s actually the great-uncle. What great-uncle? Oh, just some guy who was never once mentioned in the book. In fact, readers didn't even know the characters had a great-uncle, to begin with.

Sure, readers will never guess the plot twist, but that doesn't make it exciting. It makes it cheap. You took the easy way out for the sake of unpredictability and readers know this. Part of the intrigue of a twist is trying to figure it out ahead of time, and you've ruined this for your readers. Plus, it's impossible for them to be emotionally invested in this twist because they don't even know who the character is. Why the fuck should they care about a great-uncle when this is the first time he's been mentioned? This is honestly one of the worst plot tip methods to employ, so avoid it if you can.


Number 7: Milk It for All It’s Worth

Some series are very long and thick. (That’s what she said!) They include multiple books, the story goes on for a zillion episodes, and the writer rakes in tons of cash. But sometimes the story becomes stale. There's not a whole lot left to add.


In cases like this, it's common for writers to throw in a plot twist for the sole purpose of extending the series and maintaining their cash flow. Common plot twists in these situations are adding a secret baby, a long-lost relative, or adultery. While these twists may provide more content for the story, it's often at the expense of ruining the series. Yes, you made more money, but at what cost? The loyalty of your fandom?


If you've gotten your readers invested in a romance only to add adultery to the mix, they're gonna be pissed. Additionally, things like long-lost sisters and secret babies don't feel natural. They feel forced and contrived. Sure, a publisher might be forcing you to extend a series, so you may be contractually obligated. But plot twists for the sake of forced longevity should be avoided if possible.


Number 8: The Evil Plan Monologue

Plot twists in relationship to villains often come with an evil plan monologue. The reader just learned who the real baddie is and now they need to have their questions answered. Often this can't be avoided. There are explanations your reader requires in order to understand the twist. But you can provide these explanations without forced, unnatural exposition.


The evil plan monologue is where the villain breaks down his plan bit by bit to the unwilling main character. It's usually unprompted, and it's very clearly for the reader’s benefit. Again, I am not saying you shouldn't provide this exposition, but you can do it in a much more natural way. For example, the main character can hear them discuss it with a constituent, or the main character could demand an explanation. But having the bad guy launch into a monologue no one asked for isn't believable, and it'll really cheese up the twist.


Number 9: Predictability Is the Greatest Sin

Obviously, in most situations, you probably don't want readers to be able to predict your plot twist. That said, predictability is not the greatest sin in crafting a plot twist. The greatest plot twist sin is actually a lack of enjoyment and value. If your plot twist is a hindrance to your novel as opposed to a benefit, that is a big problem. This includes pretty much all the twists on this list:

  • Twists that are nonsensical or overly complicated.

  • Twists that include characters or events that weren't even mentioned in the story.

  • Twists that feel contrived and cheap.

Additionally, for some select genres, twists are usually predictable. Bottom line. If you're a romance writer, readers are gonna know that the characters will end up happily ever after. That is a genre requirement. So any twist that gets the two lovebirds together is going to be at least partially predictable because that's the entire point of the storyline. All that to say, most of the time you should aim for a plot twist that people cannot predict, but this is not the be-all, end-all of a twist. The most important thing is that it's entertaining and beneficial to your story.


Number 10: You Don’t Have To Write a Plot Twist

A lot of writers say every story has to have a plot twist, and that's a big fat lie. Are they fun and encouraged? Absolutely! But if it doesn't fit your story, don't bend over backward trying to make it work. A plot twist is like a fart: if you gotta force it, it's probably shit. Plus, some genres are better suited for plot twists than others.


A plot twist is like a fart: if you gotta force it, it's probably shit.

For example, if you're writing a mystery or a thriller, plot twists are almost required for these stories. So in that case, pay close attention to them. Then there are other genres, like romance, where plot twists aren't particularly necessary.


All that to say, if you're writing a genre that thrives with twists, then yeah, maybe throw one in. But in all other situations, if the plot twist doesn't add value to your story, it doesn't need to be there. Don't rack your brain trying to make it work when it doesn't need to work.


So that's all I've got for you today!

Author Jenna Moreci.

These are some of the most common plot twist tips that I’ve seen floating around the internet, and they’ll do you no good. I’ve broken them down for you bit by bit, so now you’re ready to take on your own plot twist with confidence. And you’ll probably not fuck it up, right? RIGHT?!

Anywho . . . What’s one plot twist that took you completely by surprise? How do you think the author pulled it off?


 

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