Warning: There could be potential spoilers in this blog post but they’ll likely be of an “older” period. So if you see any examples that spoiled the twist, I apologize but have to wonder why you denied yourself the joy of these great stories and then ask why at least your friends and family did not expose you to the light. Just saying.
A plot twist is an unexpected revelation. It can be a character moment, setting, theme, etc. All of these can be stand as the twist but more often than not, it is character-based. For myself, the essentiality (I wasn’t sure if that was a word or not when I typed it) of a plot twist is necessary in terms of keeping the reader on their toes. I have read several books over the years that are straight forward and don’t offer any real twist or surprise but rather a simple telling of the story presented that focuses more on the characters and the things they do and learn. This is fine. Nothing wrong with it and quite effective. One that comes to mind (very random but it popped in the ole noggin’) is that of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carole”. There’s no real plot twist by the end of the story. Scrooge just experiences some existential trips and learns that this “humbug” ways lack happiness and joy.
However, the big plot twists that we’ve come to enjoy over the years somehow enrich our experiences as partakers of fiction. The Twilight Zone series is consistent when it comes to twists and people flock to it to see if they can guess what is coming by the end. Then we have what is probably the most famous cinematic plot twist in that Darth Vader is in fact Luke Skywalker’s father and not just the Sith Lord bent on destroying the Rebel Alliance. What?! (If I spoiled that for you…well, it’s time to crawl out of the dark hole and join us sunny folks).
I say all of this in that I personally believe and feel a plot twist should only be employed for the sake of enriching the story of the characters. A great plot twist is one that shocks the characters we are following as they navigate through their conflicts and goals. If the protagonist is shocked and undone, then even better is the reader who shares in the revelation!
For myself, I think I write knowing that things will be revealed in due time. I don’t think of terms of wanting to set up a huge twist. There has to be natural progression to the story in order for these reveals to work as they should. I could give some great examples of fantasy authors I respect and feel inspired by but I’d have to play the spoiler. I’d hate to deny people that joy. Some really good twists that happen in fantasy can by found in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series (I reviewed the first book a while back). Sanderson does a great job of setting things up and pulling the rug just when you think something obvious is going to take place.
All of this s meant to enhance the reading experience. There are so many aspects to great storytelling. Many writers attempt to get there and the opportunity is always there to be grasped. However, it is a learned art. Like with so many aspects, including twists and reveals unexpectedly to the reader is not an easy task. What is disappointing though is when a cheap twist is introduced. I aim to not utilize this type of trick on the reader.
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