Plot Twists and How to Use Them: A Writer’s Guide

By Reed Smith •  Updated: 03/02/24 •  16 min read

Let’s dive straight into the heart of storytelling: **Plot Twists and How to Use Them**. This piece is all about mastering those jaw-dropping moments that keep readers on their toes. By the end, you’ll have a clearer understanding of how to craft twists that not only surprise but also deeply satisfy your audience.

We’re diving into the art of seamlessly integrating your story’s major surprises, ensuring they fit perfectly within the narrative while sprinkling in hints that are just elusive enough to keep the suspense alive without spilling the beans prematurely. Plus, we’ll touch on some famous examples that nailed it, helping you analyze what works and why.

So if you’re looking to add that roller coaster feel to your narratives or just aiming for a great plot twist that leaves readers begging for more, stick around. We’ve got plenty of insights lined up for you.

Table of Contents:

The Essence of Plot Twists in Storytelling

Nothing quite matches the thrill of a plot twist. It’s that moment when your jaw drops, and you realize you’ve been taken for a roller coaster ride without even knowing it. Think Fight Club, where the main character’s revelation reshapes our entire perception, or The Sixth Sense, offering one of those “I need to watch this again” endings.

A successful plot twist must surprise readers, be plausible within the story’s context, and have been foreshadowed just enough to make sense in hindsight—no easy feat. Mastering this equilibrium ensures the narrative’s allure, compelling readers to delve into its depths until dawn breaks.

Surprising Readers with Unforeseen Revelations

To truly captivate an audience, a twist needs to pack an unexpected punch while fitting seamlessly into the narrative fabric. Popular examples include Agatha Christie’s use of unreliable narrators or Gillian Flynn’s knack for revealing dark secrets at just the right time. Such twists not only ensnare the curiosity of readers but also forge a stronger bond between them and the unfolding tale.

Yet there lies a fine line between surprising and misleading; thus red herrings are employed carefully to misdirect without feeling cheated once everything unfolds—the hallmark of great storytelling found in classics like “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” by Agatha Christie or more contemporary works such as Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi.”

Adding Depth to The Narrative

Beyond merely shocking your audience, plot twists add layers upon layers to your tale. They can turn bad guys into heroes (or vice versa), reveal hidden motives behind actions thought benign and transform narratives through sudden shifts in perspective—a literary device famously utilized by James Dashner in “The Maze Runner.” This ability not only enriches characters but elevates mere stories into memorable experiences etched forever on reader minds.

The Gist:

Plot twists make stories unforgettable by surprising readers, adding depth to the narrative, and transforming characters in unexpected ways. They’re key for keeping your audience hooked and turning pages late into the night.

Crafting Believable Yet Unexpected Twists

Creating a twist that knocks your readers’ socks off without making them feel cheated is like walking a tightrope. Mastering the art of weaving a twist that’s both jaw-dropping and believable is akin to performing a high-wire act in storytelling. A successful plot twist must be plausible, surprising, and foreshadowed—no easy feat.

Balancing Surprise with Plausibility

Mastering the art of twist creation hinges on striking a harmonious balance between their unforeseen, yet conceivable essence. Remember Fight Club? When we found out Tyler Durden was just a figment of the Narrator’s imagination, it blew our minds but made sense given the subtle clues peppered throughout. That’s what you’re aiming for: an “Oh my gosh” followed by “Of course.” from your readers.

To pull this off, start by planting seeds early on. Drop hints so when the big reveal happens, it feels earned rather than pulled out of thin air. But beware; too obvious and you spoil the surprise; too obscure and you risk leaving readers feeling confused or misled.

A great example is Agatha Christie’s use of red herrings in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd which misleads readers beautifully while setting up for one heck of a satisfying conclusion. This gem showcases the art of weaving distractions that captivate readers, holding their attention captive until all pieces align flawlessly at the pivotal moment.

In essence, striking this balance demands careful planning and consideration at every stage of writing—plotting meticulously to ensure each element serves both to advance your narrative and lay groundwork for that jaw-dropping climax where everything falls perfectly into place (think The Sixth Sense). Following these guidelines, you’ll not only weave unforgettable surprises into your tales but also greatly enhance the depth and richness of your narrative craft.

Mastering Foreshadowing and Clues

Ever felt like a detective while reading a book, picking up on every subtle hint? That’s the magic of foreshadowing and clues. Authors subtly prime their audience for unexpected turns, carefully not revealing too much.

To nail this literary device, sprinkle in hints that seem innocuous at first but later turn out to be crucial pieces of the puzzle. For example, mentioning an heirloom knife early in your story might not raise eyebrows until it becomes the murder weapon. Employing this strategy captivates your readers, compelling them to flip through the pages eagerly as they unravel the enigma on their own.

Surprising Readers with Unforeseen Revelations

A plot twist feels like a roller coaster drop – unexpected yet thrilling. To achieve this effect without leaving readers feeling cheated, balance is key. A successful plot twist must be plausible within your story’s universe; surprising enough to make jaws drop but also seeded throughout so when the big reveal happens, there’s that ‘aha.’ moment instead of confusion or frustration.

The Sixth Sense brilliantly exemplifies how subtle clues can lead to mind-blowing revelations, reshaping viewers’ understanding of Bruce Willis’s character from start to finish. The trick lies in using red herrings and unreliable narrators effectively – misleading paths and voices add layers to your narrative maze without making readers feel lost.

Adding Depth to the Narrative

Foreshadowing isn’t just about shock value; it adds depth too. By planting seeds early on (think Chekhov’s gun), you enrich character arcs and themes—transformative moments aren’t pulled from thin air but are deeply rooted in earlier events.

This groundwork makes characters’ decisions more believable because we’ve seen them grappling with these issues subtly hinted at before everything clicked into place—like watching Oedipus realize his fate long after savvy readers have put two and two together thanks to cleverly placed hints discussed on SparkNotes.

The Gist:

Master the art of keeping readers on their toes. Sprinkle hints early to build suspense and craft plot twists that shock yet make sense, adding layers and depth to your story. Balance is key—make sure those jaw-dropping moments are rooted in clues you’ve cleverly hidden along the way.

Diverse Types of Plot Twists Explained

Ever been on a roller coaster in the dark? That’s what a great plot twist feels like. You think you know where you’re going, and then bam, an unexpected turn leaves your mind blown. Diving into various kinds can inject that heart-racing excitement into your narrative.

Anagnorisis: The Big Reveal

Anagnorisis is when the main character makes a critical discovery about themselves or others. Remember Oedipus? Thanks to SparkNotes, we know his moment of realization defines anagnorisis perfectly. It’s all about shifting from ignorance to knowledge, creating a seismic shift in perception for both characters and readers alike.

Emotionally charged moments are the lifeblood of this narrative style, pulsating with deep feelings. For it to hit hard, make sure your clues are as subtle as bread crumbs rather than whole loaves thrown at the reader’s face.

Peripeteia: The Sudden Shift

In contrast with anagnorisis’ focus on internal revelation, peripeteia swings the external circumstances dramatically – think “The Sixth Sense.” Just when you thought Bruce Willis was alive (spoiler alert.), IMDb reminds us how wrong we were. This sudden reversal needs careful planting of seeds earlier in the narrative so it doesn’t feel pulled out of thin air but rather emerges as an inevitable yet shocking outcome.

The Unreliable Narrator: Trust Issues 101

Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” gave us Amy Dunne – queen of unreliable narrators – making readers question every word they read. Employing this technique means playing with perspective effectively enough that when truth surfaces, minds get flipped alongside narratives without leaving anyone feeling cheated by deceit over skillful storytelling.

No matter which twist fits best into your tale remember these key stats; successful plot twists should be surprising yet plausible and foreshadowed just right because nothing beats watching readers pick their jaws off the floor after delivering that perfect narrative punch.

The Gist:

Great plot twists are like dark roller coaster rides, unexpected but thrilling. Whether it’s a big reveal (anagnorisis), a sudden shift in events (peripeteia), or questioning the narrator’s reliability, these twists need subtle clues and skillful storytelling to truly shock and satisfy readers.

Famous Plot Twists Analyzed

“Behind Her Eyes” – A Psychological Thriller’s Twist Unveiled

Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes throws readers for a loop with its supernatural twist. It’s like finding out your roller coaster ride has an extra loop-the-loop at the end. This book cleverly uses red herrings to mislead, making that big reveal even more jaw-dropping.

The trick? Subtle clues sprinkled throughout so when the twist hits, it feels both unexpected and inevitable. Dive into Goodreads to discover quotes that’ll make you think twice.

“The Sixth Sense” – Revealing the Unseen

Movies can mess with our heads too, just ask anyone who’s seen The Sixth Sense. This film pulls off one of the most famous plot twists ever by hiding in plain sight; we see what we expect to see until we don’t. It plays into our assumptions about main characters and their reality.

In an instant, your entire perception of the film is flipped on its head, challenging everything you believed to be true. For a refresher on this iconic turn or if somehow spoiler alert hasn’t reached your ears yet, check it out on IMDb.

The allure of plot twists lies in their ability to keep us riveted, eagerly anticipating the shocks that both unsettle and enrich our engagement with the narrative. Whether through ingenious use of literary devices such as unreliable narrators or misleading yet ultimately revealing red herrings, successful plot twists shake us up and make stories stick with us long after “The End.” They remind us of the power of storytelling and its ability to surprise, challenge, and transform our understanding in ways we never saw coming.

The Artistry Behind Writing Memorable Plot Twists

You know there are twists and turns coming, but not when or how intense they’ll be. That’s the thrill of a great plot twist in storytelling—it surprises readers, leaving them gasping for more.

Crafting memorable plot twists demands a harmonious blend of the unexpected and the believable, ensuring they resonate deeply yet appear entirely natural within the story’s fabric. It might seem like walking a tightrope without a net, but here’s the kicker: A successful plot twist must feel organic to the story yet shockingly unexpected. Think Fight Club or Oedipus Rex, where each revelation reshapes your understanding of everything preceding it.

Foreshadowing is your best friend here; subtle clues laid throughout the narrative let readers subconsciously prepare for what’s ahead without giving it away. Remember though—too obvious and you spoil the surprise; too obscure and readers may feel cheated out of an earned reveal.

Writable Great Plot Twist Advice Techniques Lasting Impact

One technique often overlooked is using unreliable narrators effectively—a la Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”. Utilizing this strategy, the author playfully distorts reality for the audience by introducing seemingly concrete details that are eventually overturned, crafting a memorable journey if executed skillfully.

Incorporating red herrings wisely adds layers of complexity to your tale by misleading audiences just enough so that when you pull back the curtain (think Agatha Christie), everyone is left astounded at how masterfully they were deceived.

Above all else? Keep those sentences snappy. Nothing kills suspense like long-winded explanations. Shorter bursts keep pages turning faster than Usain Bolt running from spoilers—which we all hate unless they’re cleverly disguised as part of this wild ride we call crafting memorable plot twists.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls When Incorporating Plot Twists

Picture this: you’re on a roller coaster of a story, twists and turns galore. Suddenly, the climactic revelation lands with more of a thud than an exhilarating jolt. That’s what happens when common pitfalls in incorporating plot twists aren’t avoided.

To craft successful plot twists that keep readers turning pages without feeling cheated, it’s crucial to dodge these storytelling landmines. One major mistake? Dropping in a twist that seems as out-of-place as pineapple on pizza (yes, we went there). Your twist needs to be unexpected yet believable within the story’s context for it to resonate with your audience.

Another trap is failing at foreshadowing—either by laying clues thicker than molasses or so subtle they’re invisible. A well-placed hint here and there lets readers feel the satisfaction of piecing things together themselves like Oedipus solving his own riddle, but without spoiling the surprise. Finding that sweet spot is akin to walking a tightrope, where one must carefully tread between the extremes.

Balancing Surprise with Plausibility

Remember those key stats—a successful plot twist must tick off three boxes: plausibility, surprise, and being foreshadowed just right. Think Sixth Sense levels of mind-blowing revelation where everything clicks into place perfectly.

To avoid making your narrative feel disjointed or forced, ensure every potential pitfall is carefully navigated by keeping these elements in harmony throughout your storyline. This approach keeps both first-time readers engaged and repeat readers intrigued by uncovering all those cleverly hidden breadcrumbs leading up to the big reveal—an experience akin to watching The Usual Suspects for the second time around.

At its core, dodging typical blunders in threading unexpected turns into your narrative isn’t solely for maintaining tension—it fundamentally enhances the whole tale by meticulously orchestrating every detail from beginning to end. Just ask Verbal Kint.

The Gist:

Master plot twists by making them believable, surprising, and well-foreshadowed. Dodge pitfalls like random shocks or poor clues to keep readers hooked from start to finish.

The Power of Red Herrings in Misleading Readers

That’s what it feels like when red herrings are at play in a story. Employing these narrative mechanisms skillfully weaves a web of diversion, guiding the audience along one trajectory only to astonish them with an unforeseen twist later on.

A well-placed red herring can add layers of complexity and keep your audience engaged, biting their nails as they try to piece together the puzzle before the big reveal. But here’s the catch: using this device effectively requires a delicate balance. You want to mislead without making readers feel cheated once they discover the truth.

To pull off this sleight of hand, start by planting subtle clues that suggest multiple possibilities—enough uncertainty to make any theory plausible yet not so obvious that the surprise factor fizzles out. Think Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, where she masterfully misled readers while playing fair all along. Oedipus Rex is another classic example; it shows how ancient storytellers also knew a thing or two about throwing audiences off track.

A skillfully placed red herring doesn’t merely shift focus—it layers your story, infusing it with complexity and fascination. This means ensuring each misleading clue ties back into your story in some meaningful way, contributing to character development or advancing plot lines even if its primary purpose was misdirection.

So next time you sit down to craft a murder mystery or any tale with twists aplenty, remember: A successful plot twist isn’t just about shocking your audience; it’s about engaging them in an intricate dance of expectation and revelation—and nothing keeps dancers on their toes quite like a cleverly deployed red herring.

FAQs in Relation to Plot Twists and How to Use Them

How do you use plot twists?

To use a plot twist, plant subtle clues throughout your story. This keeps readers guessing but still makes the reveal feel earned.

What is a good plot twist example?

In “Fight Club,” discovering Tyler Durden and the narrator are the same person flips everything on its head.

What are the different types of plot twists?

Diverse types include anagnorisis (character discovery), peripeteia (sudden reversal), deus ex machina (unexpected external solution), unreliable narrator, and red herring (misleading clue).

How many plot twists should a story have?

Aim for one or two major twists. Too many can overwhelm readers and dilute their impact.


So, you’ve journeyed through the twists and turns of storytelling. You’ve seen how Plot Twists and How to Use Them can transform a good plot into an unforgettable adventure.

Always keep in mind, the secret lies in maintaining equilibrium. A twist should surprise but feel right. It must come from within the story, not out of thin air.

Laying clues is key. Do it with care so as not to spoil the surprise but keep readers engaged and guessing.

Diverse types add spice. Whether it’s a red herring or an unreliable narrator, each brings its own flavor to your narrative roller coaster.

Above all, practice makes perfect. Keep writing, keep surprising yourself, and eventually your readers will be hanging on every word for that next unexpected turn.

Reed Smith

Reed is the founder and builder of Habit Writing and enjoys all things writing. He loves learning about the craft of storytelling, writing messy drafts, and playing board games with his wife, friends, and family.