Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ask O: Plot Twists

It’s Ask O Wednesdays. Ocieanna here. Don’t forget to leave your writing questions in the comments section (or contact me privately through I’d love to answer them! And check out the end of this post for a FREE TWIST WORKSHEET.

Today’s question: What’s a good way to create a super-surprising, really cool plot twist?

That’s an important question. Plot twists are vital to hold reader interest, but not easy to keep fresh and unpredictable. Fortunately, a kid movie I recently watched, Megamind, gave me some clues.

Make ‘em Believe
I actually watched two kid movies recently (I’m a mom, what can I say?). Despicable Me and Megamind. Unfortunately, I found Despicable Me predictable, even boring at times. I never jumped in my seat with a, “Hey, I didn’t expect that. Cool!” Nope, everything happened like it was supposed to. Bleh.

On the other hand, Megamind’s awesome twists gripped me. One was when the burly hero-type guy, Metro Man, who the protagonist Megamind killed at the beginning of the movie, showed up, not dead.

A thought-to-be dead guy coming back is definitely an overused twist, but they made it work by convincing me beyond doubt that he really was dead. I believed it, so when he returned, I was surprised … and happy. Not because I liked the character, but because they “got” me. I love being “got” in a story. Don’t you?

What did I learn from this? If readers absolutely believe the set up, they’ll buy even a common twist, like a seemingly dead guy coming back.

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?
But the twistyness wasn’t over by the return Metro Man. Nope. Another twist was soon to come.

When Metro Man showed up, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was going to save the day. It would be an easy answer. But no! Instead, another twist. He refused to help and instead hung back and left the heroics to Megamind. Pretty cool, but that wasn’t all.

Soon, just as I was feeling comfortable with how I thought the plot would go, Metro Man came back. What? I totally bought that he wasn’t going to spring into action and save the day, but there he was. I didn’t expect that, but again I was pleased because they “got” me. Plus, it seemed to bring a satisfying resolution to Metro Man’s character arc.

This pattern repeated several more times. Just when I felt like I knew what would happen, down came another surprise.

Hmm … I pondered. How can I use this in my novel? Well, perhaps I can’t layer quite as many outrageous twists as in a kid movie, but I can be sure to layer one twist with another before the reader gets too comfortable.

An example from literature is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. When she discovers Mr. Rochester’s mad wife in the attic, you expect her to be crushed—which she is—but you’d never expect a single woman to wander through the moors, and find her long-lost family, make a life for herself without need of a man, and then be the one to support him.

Keep your readers guessing, and they’ll keep those pages turning.

Try this in your work in progress. Go to for a FREE Twist Worksheet from O! And don’t forget to leave your writing question in the comment section. Happy writing!