One Writer’s Journey

March 3, 2015

Plot twists

Only recently did I finally read Kristin Cashore’s Graceling.  Want to know how to work a plot twist?  Read this book.

At the recent SCBWI conference in New York, Katherine Tegen editor Ben Rosenthal discussed mysteries and thrillers.  One of the points that he made was that for a plot twist to really work, it has to surprise not only the reader but also the character.


Releasing information little by little is one way to build suspense.  That’s what Edward Bloor does in his mystery Tangerine.  The reader knows that Paul Fisher has vision problems but not why.  Fact by fact, Bloor builds the story and what happened to Paul eventually comes out.  The reader is shocked and appalled but this is hard to do because Paul knew what happened.  He doesn’t like to think about it but he knows.

Hiding information from the reader is tricky if it is something that the main character knows.  You have to do it in a way that feels natural.  This is especially hard to do if the story is first person.  Hold back too much and the reader will feel cheated.  “Hey!  He would have known that all along!  The author cheated.”

Cashore does it by also misleading her characters. They think they know what is going on and they do, to a point.  But there are things that no one except the author knows so everyone, readers and characters, gets to be surprised as they are revealed.  Another book that does this well is The Shattering by Karen Healey.  Healey pulls it off by creating a reality that her character desperately wants to misunderstand.  Little by little, the truth forces this misunderstanding aside and the reader and the main character face the facts.

Plot twists are tricky but done well they keep the reader turning pages.





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