novel writingOther MediaWriting Fear Free

The Usual Suspects and Plot Twists

I like a good plot twist.

Let me amend that. Most of the time, I like a good plot twist. I don’t mind being tricked by an author or screenwriter as long as it’s a fair set up. In my opinion, all the clues leading up to the plot twist should be available to the reader. In other words, the plot should be fair. Misdirection should be based on writing skill, not cheap tricks. Not everyone shares this opinion; some people don’t mind being manipulated by an unfair plot and just enjoy the ride.

When a reader is fooled, they should be able to look back and see the evidence of what was about to happen all along. The first time I was so completely fooled was when I read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie as a youth. I was totally surprised by the murderer’s identity, but when I went back through the book, I could see Ms. Christie very subtly alluding to the truth all along. It was brilliant. I don’t mind being fooled by brilliance.

I do mind being manipulated. The first time I recall being disgusted by a plot twist like that was when I first saw The Usual Suspects. [Warning: spoilers ahead.] Five suspects tell their stories to police, and an intricate tale of the caper is woven through flashbacks. The tension builds and the audience wonders who is Kaiser Soze, the mastermind of the whole event. Well, the whole thing comes crashing to a halt when it is revealed that the entire story–potentially every single frame in the movie so far–has been made up based on objects around the interrogation room. This would have been a cool plot twist if the audience had ever been given the chance to catch on, but these objects were never allowed to provide their clues. It was a cheap manipulation, and I left thinking I had just wasted two hours of my life.

So, when you are concocting your plot twist, keep fairness in mind. Provide clues to what is going to happen; make it possible–but definitely not easy–for your reader to figure out what is about to happen. This way, they will look back and call you brilliant. But if you launch a radical twist out of nowhere, they will feel cheated and call you a hack.

Be fair to your readers.

5 thoughts on “The Usual Suspects and Plot Twists

  1. As a reader, I agree wholeheartedly! If I can’t go {whack on forehead} “I should’ve known!” (but of course it wouldn’t have been any fun if I did), then it just feels like the writer couldn’t quite pull it together and at the end just threw up their hands and wrote the quickest ending possible. Maybe sometimes the writer feels like they are making it too easy if they include clues, but I think that is where having ruthless critics (like family and friends) read it ahead of time makes a huge difference.

  2. I wrote something very similar recently. I was writing about book pet peeves. I read a lot of mysteries, in fact, I’m reading Agatha Christie in order now, but I have read a few murder mysteries when things just sort of “happen” to make the conclusion. I just hate that. Then again, I also don’t like it when I can figure out who the murderer is half way through the story. That said, I totally agree with you.

  3. This is a good point. Having said that, I struggled greatly with that through my book. I wanted to keep my secrets, but make them believable in the end. I was thrilled when my first reader told me that she didn’t figure out one of the secrets until I revealed it, but so I knew I didn’t make it too obvious. But my book is not out yet, and so I don’t have much feedback. I am left wondering if I spilled enough beans. I believe that I spilled as many as I could without ruining the end, but we’ll see what the reviewers have to say!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.