In every story, the hero pursues a straightforward goal and gets it at the midpoint. Then suddenly everything falls apart because the story gets twisted in an unexpected way. In “John Wick, Chapter 2,” John Wick’s straightforward goal is to assassinate the sister of the man who hired him. When he succeeds, the twist occurs when the man who hired him suddenly hires every professional hit man to kill John Wick so the villain can look like he’s trying to avenge his sister’s death.
This sudden twist must be logical because if it comes out of nowhere, then the story will feel disjointed. In “John Wick, Chapter 2,” this betrayal is set up earlier when the villain asks John Wick to do a job and John Wick turns him down. Then the villain blows up John Wick’s house.
The first half of any story must clearly define the straightforward goal but setup the twist. Often times the twist occurs simply because the villain still exists and the hero’s achievement of the straightforward goal accomplishes a selfish goal. When the twist comes, the hero must think about and save others by defeating the villain.
In “WALL-E,” the hero (WALL-E) simply wants to find love with Eve, which he seems to achieve by reuniting with her on the starship. Then everything falls apart when they discover that the villain is trying to destroy the plant that Eve worked so hard to bring back from Earth.
The twist in most stories comes from the revelation of the villain’s true motive. In “WALL-E” this occurs when we learn that the villain doesn’t want to return humanity back to Earth. In “John Wick, Chapter 2,” this twist occurs when we learn that the villain really wants to betray John Wick.
So the best way to plan a twist in your own story is to first define your hero’s goal. Your hero wants a physical goal and the achievement of that goal is the midpoint of your story. Then your hero also has an emotional goal that he or she may not be aware of, but when the hero achieves this emotional goal, he or she will become a better person.
Tod define the twist, your villain needs a goal that’s partially hidden in the beginning. In “Star Wars,” we know Darth Vader wants something (the stolen Death Star plans) and we know that he has a goal but we don’t quite know what it is (destroy the rebel base). In the second half of “Star Wars,” we finally learn that Darth Vader not only wants to find the rebel base, but he wants to use the Death Star to blow it up. That creates the final battle that Luke has to win to achieve his emotional goal and defeat the villain.
So plan your story like this:
- Define your hero’s physical goal — This represents the midpoint of your story
- Define your hero’s emotional goal — This defines how the hero must change in the end
- Define your villain’s physical goal — The revelation of the villain’s goal provides the twist for the second half of the story and also defines how the hero will achieve his or her emotional goal in the end
Your hero has two goals, a physical one that gets partially met by the midpoint, and an emotional goal that changes the hero in the end. The villain has a physical goal that’s partially revealed in the first half of the story, then completely revealed in the second half, creating the twist in the story.
Don’t focus too early on the exact details of these goals. Just be aware that your hero and villain need goals and how these goals work together to define the midpoint and twist and ending to your story. By defining the rough structure of your story based on the goals of the hero and the villain, you can create a stronger story structure that you can fill in with details later.