This post has spoilers for the movies The Sixth Sense, The Others, Psycho, Friday the 13th, and the Star Wars series. If you’re trying to not be spoiled for any of them because you haven’t seen them (which you totally should!), you might want to click ahead!
HORROR PLOTS ARE YOUR FRIENDS
As I’ll talk about in my last part of this post, most movies and books with really great twists are thrillers or horror movies. Psychological thrillers are most common, but you also have writers like Wes Craven and Alfred Hitchcock who pretty much stick to straight-up horror, so there’s plenty of examples. I’ll make a post entirely about horror movies soon, but the nice thing surrounding plot twists in horror movies is tension — there’s usually an excess amount to work with, which can make the twist even more jarring for your audience.
PLAN OUT EVERY POSSIBLE SCENARIO
I’ve talked about planning out your novel before, but especially when it comes to stories with any kinds of plot twists, making sure you plan out every part of it, as well as every possible scenario that your readers might pick up on. Take the classic murder mystery plots — everyone tries to piece together who the killer is from the first moment the movie starts. As the writer, it’s your job to plan out every trick your audience might pick up on, even if you didn’t intend it to be a hint. For instance, if you take notice of the floor being dirty on the murder scene, and you bring up one of the character’s boots has dirt in it, people might make connections whether you want them to or not. Use this to your advantage and don’t let it be a disadvantage.
FORESHADOW (BUT NOT TOO MUCH)
Once you figure out your main plot plan like I mention in the previous point, I highly suggest throwing in one or two subtle touches of foreshadowing — JK Rowling does this very well. From the beginning, she brings in the prophecies (“Born to those who have thrice defied him“, “His servant has been chained these twelve years”, etc.), but she has a few subtler ones as well. I would definitely say with foreshadowing, less is more, and to not add anything until you have most of the story already set. They’re great for small hints like the ones I mentioned here, rather than huge plot events. However, this does sometimes work, like when Luke Skywalker has a vision of his own face behind Darth Vader’s mask, hinting that Darth Vader is really his father, Anakin Skywalker.
STAY AWAY FROM TROPES
I’m going to say it now and probably contradict myself in a later post, but… tropes are expectable. Unfortunately, a lot of really great movies and books have set the stage when it comes to plot twists, like Malcolm being dead the whole time in The Sixth Sense and really anything involving mothers like in Psycho and Friday the 13th. Because of these now-famous stories, the plot twists are kind of expected (whenever I watch a paranormal thriller, I always think they’ve been dead the whole time). The whole point of a twist is to be unexpected and surprising to your readers, so tropes really defeat the purpose.
…UNLESS YOU HAVE A REALLY UNIQUE TWIST ON IT
As a sort of exception to my previous point, it’s totally fine to use a basic trope if you’re able to put a new spin on it. For example, in The Others, we find out that Nicole Kidman, her children, and the caretakers have been dead the whole time… but then who’s haunting them? The twist on this is that the hauntings they’re experiencing are actually the people in the real world moving into the home and performing seances to try and talk to the spirits, which is why the spiritual “veil” seems to be breaking. This way, we’re kind of given a one-two punch to the gut when we find it the secret both is and isn’t how we expected it to be, which makes for some perfectly executed plot twists.
Now, go out there and get writing!