Fellow readers and writers, how do we feel about big plot twists?
I’ve recently read a couple of books that had big, ‘da-da’ reveals, and in both cases I just wanted to throw the book across the room. You know the kind of thing – ‘Oh, it was her all along’ or ‘Wow, it was the guy on the train, didn’t see that coming’ or whatever. The rug is pulled out from under the reader.
I can’t quite put my finger on why I didn’t like it, maybe it was just these specific cases, but they felt kind of cheap, I guess, unearned, somehow. Like cheating. I dunno. Do you know what I mean or is it just me?
I’m not having a go at people who read or write these books, and they undoubtedly take a lot of skill, writerly skill that I just don’t have I think. I guess that sort of thing is just not for me. There’s plenty of room in the world for all kinds of books, so I guess I’m just wondering what the appeal is for folk who like em?
Sorry, this is a bit rambling. Been thinking about it a lot as I’ve been writing a first draft recently. I keep having ideas for big twists, but I haven’t put them in. Maybe it’s just if they’re embedded in the story and the characters properly, then they would work, but I rarely feel that when I come across a book like that.
So, in summary, how do we feel about big plot twists?
I love a plot twist that’s utterly embedded in the fabric of the story – something like Fingersmith or The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd – because the thrill of being that expertly played adds to how engrossed I am in the book. But I hate the deus ex machina plot twist that comes out of nowhere – barely lurking on the fringes, then suddenly pivotal.
On the whole I’m not crazy about plots, full stop. I hate it when a plot is visible like the guts of the Pompidou Centre. I’ve just written a review of a book and one of my criticisms of it was that it felt plotted. A plot is a contrivance and only the very best writers manage to bury them deep enough—usually under deep characterisation—that you don’t notice them. Plot twists are wonderful when they’re pulled off with style—life, so they say, is full of surprises—so it’s great when films like The Sixth Sense come along and 99% of us genuinely don’t see it coming. But then Shyamalan got it into his head to try and pull it off again and to be fair Unbreakable was okay but it just went downhill from there. The problem with plot twists is when they included purely for effect. In The Crying Game the big reveal is something that could realistically have happened—the Kinks sang about it in ‘Lola’—and it was great and then there’s the finale of Rosanne where we’re told that everything we’ve been deeply involved in for the last few years has been a lie; that was even worse than Bobby Ewing walking out of the shower.
In my novels I have one plot twist. I didn’t even see it coming. All I needed to do was go back to chapter one and add in a wee bit of foreshadowing—a sentence or two—and that was it. It made total sense when I got there but it wasn’t like I was working towards ripping the carpet from under my readers.