Hello, people of the internet!
So, I’ve been thinking about plot twists lately. Not because I haven’t got anything more important to think about (because, by heck, I do!), but it has always been something I have various thoughts about. I either think, “OMG, I DIDN’T EXPECT THAT! THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!”, “WTF, DO YOU EXPECT ME TO BELIEVE THAT! OH PLEASE, THAT’S JUST STUPID!” or “…wait, that was supposed to be a twist?”
It all just makes me wonder: what actually is a good plot twist?
Well, it has to be shocking, of course. It suddenly changes your whole perspective of a story and/or character and if you decide to reread, you spot all the clues that were right there in front of you.
That is, if it was written well…
I will say this outright: when stories don’t give any readers clues or hints about a plot twist later on in the story, then all of a sudden have a plot twist, is lazy writing. It gives just the idea that the writer got stuck on what happens next and couldn’t think up anything else, so decided to add a plot twist. It doesn’t fit in with the atmosphere of the whole book or give any social commentary – it just happens and will you wondering, “how in the hell did that happen? Did I miss something?” Nope, you didn’t miss anything. It’s lazy writing.
To make a plot twist good, however, is harder than you would think, especially when it comes to the reader. Readers are extremely varied in what they have experienced prior to reading a book with a plot twist. Take, for example, crime thriller novels. They are full of plot twists, but due to their highly formulaic style of plot and character, there is a high chance that a reader who has read a lot of crime thrillers can often see a plot twist coming, even if it is perfectly written with just enough clues to be subtle yet make the plot twist work. This has happened to me lots of times, as I have read a lot of crime thrillers, where I’ve discovered who the killer was and instead of thinking, “It was them all along!!! WHAT???”, I was like, “Called it!”. That’s because I have read A LOT of crime thrillers and have learnt a lot of their tropes, whereas if a reader who hasn’t read a lot of crime thrillers and thus aren’t familiar with the tropes, will find the plot twist shocking. Now, I’m sure this doesn’t happen all the time to every reader of crime thrillers – heck, I can still be shocked by plot twists in crime thrillers – it’s just an example I’m very familiar with.
But what’s worse than all of the kinds of plot twists I’ve aforementioned? The plot twist that was underwhelming.
Before I continue, I will be discussing spoilers for Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, so if you haven’t read the book and want to, feel free to stop reading.
Dark Places is not one of my favourite Gillian Flynn books and that’s because of the twist ending where you finally find out who killed the Day family. It turns out there are two killers, acting on different motives and don’t know one another, who just so happen to be in the same house. One Day sister was killed by the brother’s girlfriend and the mother and other sibling was killed by a man who was paid by the mother to only kill her so her family can gain the inheritance and live a better life without her (only it goes wrong and the man kills the other child by accident). Just looking at it, it does seem different to a lot of crime thrillers, but as I was reading it, I was no longer lost in the book. Instead, I asked myself so many questions like, “wait, who’s this man? Where did he come from? Did I miss something?” and struggled to get back into the story. In fact, I had to reread the whole chapter because it did feel it came out of nowhere yet there were lots of clues and prior events that would point to this conclusion (except for the hired killer, he only got one mention at the beginning of the book and I completely forgot about him until I read the beginning again just to see if there was a clue I missed). I can’t explain why, and I’m sure other readers would disagree with me and say it was great twist, but I’m still underwhelmed by it, even though I read it months ago. Why it didn’t work for me – I have no idea.
What I’ve learnt about plot twists is that it is something a writer should write very well in order for it to fit perfectly with the atmosphere, plot and character, but at the end of it, it is the reader who decides, on a logical and/or emotional level, whether or not it’s good, bad or perhaps something just not for them.
Thank you for reading!
P.S. I may write another post in the future discussing plot twists even more. I have a lot more to say and there are elements in this post I do want to elaborate, but I haven’t got enough time (and I didn’t want to write an essay).