Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Plot Twists

Essential in a good mystery is the beloved "twist." The sudden unexpected turn of events or realization that things are not what they had seemed to be up to this point. To me ya gotta have 'em, and the more the merrier. Sure you can overdo it, but several twists in a story keep you guessing, make you wonder, and add that surprise! surprise! element to a gripping story.

In a classic whodunit, a good author can have you feeling for certain that "this person" is guilty, then for sure it's "that person," but oh, no! - you're kidding me - it was her all along? And then still you weren't correct. It was him that did it!

Love it. Plot twists. They add to stories in many genres, but the mystery/suspense genre, to me, really shines when this ingredient is well done. Again, not overdone. While not a novel, the last "Mission Impossible" movie (I think it was the last one) with Tom Cruise went stupid with the mask wearing thing. I thought I was going to puke if just one more person tore off their mask right at the height of a pivotal scene to reveal that they were impersonating someone, whether good guy or bad guy. That's weak redundant overuse of the same old same old.

My favorite twist is when the protagonist, all book long, turns out to be the perpetrator.

What's your take on plot twists? How much is good, how many is too many, and what kind is your favorite?


Morgan Mandel said...

Plot twists are a good device as long as you plant hints earlier that readers can later on remember and say Why didn't I think of that?

Morgan Mandel

Heath said...

I don't mind plot twists, if they make sense in retrospect and aren't too "gimmicky". Saw this French horror flick recently called "High Tension", which was pretty solid and scary, until--bam!--ten minutes before the end they give us a plot twist that is SO outta nowhere it just ruins the whole movie. Honestly, the story didn't even NEED a plot twist, but, there ya go. Everyones gotta be M. Night Shamaylan.

F. M. Meredith, author said...

I love plot twists if they work--not too good at thinking them up myself though.

Sometimes though the characters themselves will throw in something I didn't expect.


Anne Carter said...

You mention the case where the protagonist is the perp. How about *[spoiler alert]* in The Sixth Sense, when we find out just who Bruce Willis really is? Now THERE'S a plot twist!


Karen Magill said...

I loved Sixth Sense and what a success that was. After all these years others still parody it.

Jean Henry Mead said...

I'm a definite plot twister, as you know, Marv. But you have to play fair with the reader. Like the bread crumbs Hansel and Gretel dropped on the way to the witch's gingerbread house, you have to leave small clues so the reader can say, "Oh, yeah, I remember that." If your killer is someone who is a total surprise, your reader is going to be disgruntled and probably won't buy your next book.

Dana Fredsti said...

HAH! Marvin, I call that the Scooby Doo gimmick..

Anonymous said...

Great advice, Jean, re bread crumbs. I'm a pantser so I've found in three separate books that I didn't know 'who dunit' until I was getting near the end. As the writer, I find those plot twists and surprises part of the fun for me, too. I often have a list of four or five possibles.

What I've noted recently in my current wip since the murderer is still a possible one of three, is that once I decide, I must go back and plant those breadcrumbs or at least check that they are there. Just mentioning the character, like the TV cop shows often do [have the character walk on early, but don't give him too much exposure or lie too often], isn't respectful of a reader who has invested many hours with a book.

Re twists, it's been advised by folks like Donald Maass to get to a point in the action and instead of going the expected direction, turn 90 degrees or more. The goal: elicit an OMG reaction from the reader.

thanks for the article, Marvin