No story should progress from beginning to end without at least one surprise. That one surprise is what makes stories memorable. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” there’s no bigger surprise than finding out that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, but almost all good movies have a surprise that’s usually revealed in the end.
In “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” Rambo learns that his mission was really designed to prove that American POWs didn’t exist but when he rescues one, he violates his orders so the American command decides to abandon him to keep him from revealing the truth. That’s an example of a twist in a story. Just when you think everything’s going well, you learn that something is not what it seems.
In “The Crying Game,” a man falls in love with a woman, only to find out she’s not really a woman after all. In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss initially thinks that Peeta has teamed up with the other tributes to hunt her down and kill her. Only later does she learn that Peeta teamed up with the others to protect her.
Plot twists occur in two ways. One, when something’s been hidden and eventually gets revealed. A second way a plot twist occurs is when a character changes.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero’s ex-boyfriend is going to marry a new girl. Initially this new girl is hostile to the hero, but later she has a change of heart and helps the hero. In “Star Wars,” one plot twist is when Hans Solo returns to save Luke by shooting Darth Vader’s escorts away so Luke can get a clear shot at the Death Star. This could only occur if Hans changed from being selfish to thinking of others regardless of any monetary reward.
In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the hero’s entire family has been supporting her right up until the very end. When they see the level of competition the hero must face, they’re suddenly fearful she’ll make a fool of herself so they all actively turn against the hero. That’s a plot twist. The hero decides to perform anyway and her burlesque performance, taught to her by her grandfather, is one final surprise that makes “Little Miss Sunshine” so memorable.
So when telling a story, think of plot twists that can surprise and alter the direction of a story. You don’t want a story to progress too smoothly from beginning to end. You want a t least one major plot twist to divert the simple path from beginning to end. Instead, you want the plot twist to make your story zig zag but still eventually wind up at the ending anyway.
In “The Hunger Games,” we already know Katniss has to survive in the end. That’s no surprise, but the real surprise is how she will do it. Just when we think she’s going to killed when she tries to get supplies at the Cornucopia, the black tribute from Rue’s district saves her because Katniss tried to save Rue. That’s a plot twist. Another plot twist occurs when the Game Keeper changes the rules that allows two people to win but only if both come from the same district. That rule change allow Katniss to save Peeta.
In “Die Hard,” one plot twist occurs when the FBI shows up and instead of helping John McClane, they mistake him for at terrorist and try to kill him. Plot twists generally make the hero’s task harder to achieve.
So think of plot twists for your story. Make it exist from the beginning and keep it hidden until the end, or have someone change and provide that plot twist. either way will work but a story without a plot twist is too linear and thus too boring because it’s straightforward. Stories should surprise and delight us, not be predictable even though they are. The real purpose of plot twists is to disguise the ending and make us believe the hero is really in danger even though we know he or she is not.