Monday, 21 September 2015

Let's Twist Again by Nola Passmore

Photo credit: beautyfromashes / FoterCC BY-NC-ND

Picture this. Businessman, adult son, and work colleague go into closed room while businessman’s wife waits outside. A shot rings out. Wife enters room to discover husband dead and son grappling with work colleague. Work colleague runs from room with gun, and the rest of the novel is spent hunting the murderer.

When I read that scenario, I thought to myself, ‘Oh I bet the son turns out to be the killer’. And guess what? He was. Although the novel was well-written, with lots of suspense, the fact that I picked the twist in the first 20 pages did dampen my enthusiasm.

When I read Ian McEwan’s Atonement, I had a totally different experience. While there are some aspects of the book I didn’t enjoy, the twist is the best I’ve ever read. It turned the whole novel on its head.

So what makes a good twist?

Avoid the Obvious

There are some really well-worn plot twists that invariably let down the reader. Here are some examples.

  • You follow your protagonist through an incredible series of events, only to find it was all a dream.
  • The strange man you saw kissing the married woman turns out to be her brother.
  • The protagonist is behaving out of character and you discover he has an identical twin.
The more original you are, the more likely you’ll create that ‘ah ha’ moment for your readers.

Work on the ‘Set Up’

While it’s important for a twist to surprise, it shouldn’t come ‘out of the blue’ or trick your readers. There needs to be some foreshadowing so that when your readers get to the big reveal, they think ‘Wow, that all makes sense now’. Kate Morton does a brilliant job of this in The Secret Keeper. The twist in itself isn’t the most unique I’ve ever come across. In fact, I read another novel recently that used a similar device. However, her plotting and foreshadowing is brilliant. While I didn’t see the twist coming, it explained everything and I felt like I wanted to go back and read the book again in light of the twist.

It Advances the Story

As K.M. Wieland notes, a plot twist shouldn’t be an end in itself. It has to contribute to the plot in a meaningful way so that readers will be excited about the ensuing developments. The twist should actually make the story better.

All of that is easier said than done of course, but if you can develop original twists that avoid gimmicks, are set up well and raise your story to the next level, you’ll have thousands of happy readers.

Which novels have you read that have great twists? I’d love to hear your suggestions (without the spoilers of course).

More Reading

Scheller, R. (2014). 4 Ways to Write a Killer Plot Twist. Retrieved from:
N.B. Most of this article is an excerpt from Story Trumps Structure by Steven James.

Wieland, K. M. (2013). 5 Ways to Write a Killer Plot Twist. Retrieved from

Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 140 short pieces published, including devotionals, true stories, magazine articles, academic papers, poetry and short fiction.  She loves sharing what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same.  She and her husband Tim have their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  You can find her writing tips blog at their website:


  1. Hey, Nola! Awesome post. Loved reading it. I agree about the twists. But it is a conundrum. (I love that word.) I have read books in the past that I paid for and finished chapter 1 and threw it aside. YUCK! Regarding the twists in novels. I think that writers spend so much time on setting, dialogue, research, character, that they hurry to get to the end. And the reader suffers. I will check out your links. I love K.M. I have another one for you. Do you know MJ Bush? She's wonderful. Hugs, my friend.

    1. Hi Robyn - Thanks for that.Yes it can certainly be a letdown if the ending is rushed. You want your readers to enjoy the whole journey. My husband has just finished reading a book with over 400 pages of small print and he was really enjoying it until the end. Lots of loose ends and little resolution. Thanks for the link too Robyn. I've had a quick look and have bookmarked it for future reference. Thanks for stopping by to comment :)

  2. Thanks Nola
    Finding a new/unused plot twist can be tricky
    Your tips are most helpful
    I don't like too much suspense otherwise I get anxious - clearly a sign of well written novel!
    I have enjoyed a series from Tim Downs The Bug Man Novel. A bit of humour in this series too.
    Love your work Nola!

    1. Thanks Di - I actually love a good suspense/thriller as long as it doesn't cross the line into horror (freaks me out too much). But one of the problems when you read a lot of suspense is that it can become easier to pick the twists. I love it when an author sucks me in, but in a good way, so that I go 'Wow - didn't see that fantastic turn of events coming'. Thanks for the suggestion re Tim Downs. Will have to check it out. Thanks for your encouragement xx

  3. Enjoyed your post thanks.I sort of enjoy twists and they are fun to write if one can pull them off well. In TSK I actually enjoyed my second read more because I liked that 'real' character more than the one I thought she was. (If you know what I mean. trying not to spoil story for others.) Maybe it's old age beginning ( for me I mean!)

    1. Hi Jeanette - Thanks for that. I know what you mean about TSK. Again without giving anything away, I didn't particularly like the younger version of one of the characters. When I got to the twist, everything made sense. I must read it again. Can't wait for her new one to come out next month. I also loved The Distant Hours. Another one where everything wasn't quite as it seemed. I couldn't put the last 80 pages down. Thanks for your comment :)

  4. Hi Nola, I think Agatha Christie earned her title as Queen of Crime because she managed her plot twists so well. Even though we expected them from her and tried to anticipate the unexpected, she still pulled off something entirely surprising in her mysteries many times.

    1. Hi Paula - Yes I guess that's why she's the Queen of Crime and still the best-selling author of all time (tied with William Shakespeare if you believe Wikipedia). I've read a number of her books and she does have good twists. Very well-plotted. Thanks for commenting :)

  5. Hi Nola - great post with some good tips. I often find I'm one step ahead of the author (Jodi Picoult, Emily Rodda, even Agatha Christi). Writing a good twist is hard - especially getting the balance between foreshadowing (and not telegraphing) versus totally out of the blue and unbelievable. And writing in deep POV can cause it's own problems as many readers object if the POV character knows something that is withhold from the reader (I struggle a bit with that one, especially in a book with more than one POV). I do think it's best to avoid a predictable ending (unless the whole point of the story is not what will happen but how did it happen). Of course, in some genres twists are almost mandatory (detective, perhaps thriller)- but I'm beginning to wonder if too much focus is put on producing an incredible twist to the detriment to other elements.

    1. Hi Jenny - Thanks for that. I remember you saying you picked the twist in The Storyteller by Jodi Piccoult, whereas I was totally sucked in. Loved that book. It is hard to write a truly original twist with the right balance of foreshadowing, but not telegraphing. I can think of another novel I've read recently where the foreshadowing in one scene was too obvious and gave away the identity of the killer way too early.

      You've also raised a good point about whether a twist can be detrimental to the other elements of the story. I think you're right. The K.M. Wieland article I've mentioned at the end gives some good guidelines for avoiding that. She says that the twist should advance the story in some way so that the story is actually better for the twist being there. Not always easy to pull off as you say. Thanks for taking the time to comment :)

  6. Replies
    1. Thanks Rhonda. Yes, it could have been a series of posts, but I restrained myself :) Thanks for your comment :)

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Great post Nola. I agree that good plot twists make great stories. The challenge is to leave enough clues but not too many isn't it? And for that plot twist to be a good ending. There have been a few plot twists which were good but ended the story on a very unhappy note. That, I didn't like. Many thanks for those invaluable tips which I shall use in my next story. :)