Let's Write a Twist Again
Making plot twists make sense
Plot twists are a fun tool for building suspense within a story.
It keeps you turning the page as a reader when a dark secret is revealed that changes how you see a key character or an event within the narrative sends the story down an unexpected path. Unraveling a mystery within a story is rewarding. You are drawn into that fictional world as a reader and feel compelled to stay there until you’ve read to the final page.
Plot twists pop up within many of my stories. It’s a useful tool to expose hidden agendas for key characters or reveal dark secrets from the past that influence how the main story unfolds in the present. I always follow specific guidelines when crafting these moments within a novel or short story.
(Warning: significant *spoilers* for multiple stories are below.)
Foreshadowing is your friend
A plot twist needs to be earned within the narrative. You can’t drop a revelation that changes everything into the middle of a story without laying the groundwork for that revelation first.
Any plot twist you employ should make logical sense when you read through the story a second time. You should be able to identify clues within a character’s personality and behavior that foreshadow the eventual plot twist.
Alien People offers a blueprint for executing a plot twist. Xttra and Lance infiltrate a secret Earth Defense Bureau base in Utah to rescue Calandra and Doni after they are taken prisoner by US Army rangers. Their rescue mission takes a deadly turn when Doni turns against the others and joins the hostile Earthians. His actions turn him into a major antagonist in the novel’s third act.
I laid the groundwork for Doni’s eventual betrayal much earlier in the story. He has a clandestine meeting with Delcor before leaving Lathos where he is given secret orders to track down and destroy evidence of hibernating hybrid soldiers hidden in Earth’s solar system. Rubrum scientists helped create these genetically altered monsters and they were used by Delcor to enact a shocking massacre of thousands of Confederation civilians in the final days of the Separatist War. When Doni is captured by Earthians, he learns Rubrumians tried to colonize Earth by force (an invasion chronicled in Under a Fallen Sun). This newfound knowledge convinces him to betray his surviving crewmates and align with the Earthians.
Doni’s ultimate plan is to steal the scout ship and return to Lathos to inform Delcor about the failed invasion. His agenda includes eventually returning to earth and crushing the planet with the main Stellar Guard fleet so he and Delcor can prevent Earthians from forging a future alliance with the Confederation of Northern Tribes to drive the chief sovereign from power. This scheme informs his betrayal that puts Calandra and Xttra in greater danger.
Stay true to your characters
Plot twists are only effective if they remain consistent with a character’s established personality. If you compel a character take an action that feels completely out-of-character for the sake of manufacturing suspense, the plot twist will only feel like a cheap parlor trick. All you’ll succeed in doing is angering readers and alienating your audience from your story.
Ellen turns out to be the true antagonist by the time Hiding From Shadows reaches its conclusion. Readers see a terrifying ordeal with a vengeful ghost unfold from her point-of-view, only to finally learn she committed a violent crime to bring down that otherworldly vengeance on her head. The twist works because you see Ellen’s earlier conflicts with her ex-husband Ray and get a snapshot of an angry selfishness present within her personality.
Create realistic and meaningful consequences
An effective plot twist should carry serious weight for a character long after the story where it occurs ends. A hidden secret or dark revelation influencing the plot should lead to life-altering ramifications for one or more characters. It infuses a sense of realism when plot twists aren’t treated as isolated moments in time and discarded, but exert a powerful influence on the character going forward.
Calandra’s relationship with her grandfather is given a different context through the dark secrets she learns as Dark Metamorphosis unfolds. She resented him leaving Lathos, never to return, when she was a young child. Her attitude changes when Calandra learns her grandfather was forced into exile after uncovering suppressed evidence of startling and horrifying crimes committed by their chief sovereign.
Calandra’s discovery puts her on the same path toward exile and charts a new course for her as a rebel leader trying to spark an uprising against Delcor’s rule over Ra’ahm. Life changes forever for Calandra through that single plot twist. She is still dealing with the repercussions of what she learned about her grandfather when Among Hidden Stars picks up her story again nearly four years later.