Readers Crave Stories with a Twist: Tips for Writing Great Plot Twists

C.S. Lakin, writing tips, plot twist, twist, plot twists, how to create plot twists, crafting plot twists in fiction, writing tips

When it comes to stories, everyone LOVES a good twist. Whether this is in a movie, short story, or a novel audiences LOVE to be fooled. Twists and misdirection can not only cultivate passionate fans, but they’re crucial elements that keep any story from the dreaded label…”formulaic.”

Who wants to spend precious time with a movie, am HBO series, or a book that anyone with one eye and half sense could predict the ending?

I believe the greatest compliment any story can earn is the surprising yet inevitable ending. When we craft a story, ideally the reader will finish and say two things.

I never saw that coming and How did I NOT see that coming?

Word wizardry is not easy, so a colleague of mine has been generous enough to write a guest post for today. C.S.Lakin is a fantastic speaker and teacher. She’s here to teach us to TWIST, BABY, TWIST!

Take it away, Susanne!

C.S. Lakin, writing tips, plot twist, twist, plot twists, how to create plot twists, crafting plot twists in fiction, writing tips

Plot twists are all about the unexpected. So, the best tip for writing great twists is come up with unexpected plot developments.

The challenge for the writer is to craft twists that are both unexpected and believable. Ah, there’s the rub. How can your twists be believable if they’re unexpected?

Expect the Unexpected

Often, the trick is to set up hints, or foreshadowing, in earlier scenes, so that when the truth of the twist is discovered, your reader won’t get mad because they feel cheated or tricked. Having a new character show up at the climax to save the day for the hero will do just that.

No setup, no believability (and no satisfaction on the reader’s part).

If your novel has twists at the start of the story, immediately misdirecting due to appearances, that’s fine . . . again, so long as it’s believable. We humans make assumptions and come to conclusions about events we experience, and it’s believable that we may misinterpret what we see and hear.

For Example:

Your character is walking down the street of her city at dawn. Two men come running out of a bank, holding black briefcases. The bank alarm is blaring. She hears screaming from inside the bank, then an explosion. Not wanting to stick around, she runs . . . only to turn a corner, where she crashes into the two men . . .

Your reader might reasonably presume these men are bank robbers. And what transpires upon encountering them may also reinforce this belief when one points a gun at her and tells her to get lost and quick.

It’s only later, when she is pouring herself a stiff drink and trembling behind her locked apartment door that she sees on the news that a gang of Goth girls, sent by a mob boss, robbed the bank, using plastic explosives to blow up the vault.

This plants doubt in your character’s head: Is the news wrong or did I misinterpret what happened?

Later in the story, events may unfold that have her realize the men she encountered were not the “bad guys” but, rather, secret agents who, tipped off about the impending robbery, managed to get the highly classified plans from the safe-deposit box in time, before the Goth girls entered.

But then, another twist might show that to be false information given to the police. The men are actually from a rival mob, and they have even worse plans.

For Every Action There’s a Reaction

C.S. Lakin, writing tips, plot twist, twist, plot twists, how to create plot twists, crafting plot twists in fiction, writing tips

Your twist needs to be written with your readers’ reaction in mind. Do you want to shock them? Scare them? Make them angry? Keep that emotion at the forefront when crafting your twist.

If you start with the “expected,” the believable, then you can work from there. Keep these points in mind:

Twists need to escalate the story.

Meaning, they shouldn’t be thrown in for no good reason (other than to surprise the reader). The stakes for your story need to be impacted by the twist.

The story must be able to stand on its own without the twist.

If you took out the Statue of Liberty at the end of The Planet of the Apes, it would still be a terrific story about a world of intelligent apes oppressing unintelligent humans. If Dr. Crowe in The Sixth Sense wasn’t really dead, the story would still be a fascinating study of a therapist trying to help a very troubled and gifted boy (not as great, but the story would hold up).

The twist shouldn’t trick your reader.

Avoid cliché’s and gimmicks. Keep it real.

Tips to Twist

***Remember: The Perfect Twist is Believable, Yet Unexpected 😉

Step One:

Think about a milestone event in your story. For example, your hero needs to find where a hostage has been taken.

Step Two:

Now, make a list of 5-10 possible, believable scenarios. Your hero overhears a conversation, giving him a tip. Your hero spots someone in a car he thinks is one of the kidnappers. Your hero’s partner calls and gives him the address.

Step Three:

Once you have your list, make a new list for each believable scenario. This list is all the ways you could possibly misdirect. The overheard conversation could be fabricated by the bad guy specifically to misdirect your hero.

Or it could be he wrongly assumes who was speaking, and the tip is a dead end. Or the tip is valid, but it’s a trap, so that when your hero arrives, he’s attacked. Or the partner was misled or coerced.

Step Four:

Come up with all kinds of ideas, crazy and logical. Sometimes the crazy idea, with a little work, is the best. But, again, it has to be believable. If a character is going to flat-out lie, he needs to be the kind of character who would do that. Or if not, he needs a very good reason to lie—perhaps someone is holding a gun to his daughter’s head.


C.S. Lakin, writing tips, plot twist, twist, plot twists, how to create plot twists, crafting plot twists in fiction, writing tips

Once you’ve come up with some great twists, think of how to go back through earlier scenes and put in not-so-obvious bits to prepare for the twist.

If you are going to have a surprise character be the killer at the end of your mystery, you’ll need a half-dozen or so moments, at minimum, in your story with that character, setting up subtle hints as to her nature, interests, and behavior that will make your readers say at the end, “Oh, of course!” and still be delighted that they didn’t figure it out.

Thanks so much!

I appreciate Susanne taking the time to share these tips. Remember, comments for guest posters count double for the contest (below).

More About Our Guest

C.S. Lakin is a writing coach, copyeditor, and author of thirty books, fiction and nonfiction. She blogs at Live Write Thrive, helping writers on their writing journey, and teaches online courses for writers at Enroll in her new course, The Ten Key Scenes to Frame Up Your Novel, before August 20, 2018 to get half off the regular price!

I love hearing from you!

What do you WIN? For the month of JULY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).


steampunk, writingClass Title: Building a Believable Steampunk World

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $50.00 USD Standard

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: FRIDAY, July 20, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST


Who doesn’t love some steampunk cosplay? Corsets, goggles, awesome hats…

Steampunk has become one of the hottest genres today, crossing the lines of YA, NA, and adult fiction. It seems like it’s fun to write because it’s fun to read.

However, there’s a world of difference between the amateur steampunk writer and the professional steampunk author, and the difference lies in the world they create.

Is your steampunk world historically-accurate enough not to jar the reader out of the narrative with anachronisms? Does your world include paranormal as well as steampunk? Are the gadgets and level of sophistication in keeping with the technologies available at the time?

Steampunk is not an excuse to take short-cuts with history. Good writing in this genre requires a solid grasp of Victorian culture and history, including the history of science, medicine, and industry.

This shouldn’t scare you off from writing steampunk, but it should encourage you to take this class and learn how to create a world that is accurate, consistent and immersive.

This class will cover a broad range of topics including:

  • Not-So-Polite Society: Just how prim and Victorian do you want to get?
  • Grime and Gears: How to research Victoriantechnology, science, medicine, and industry without dying of boredom?
  • Putting the ‘Steamy’ in Steampunk: How to obey (and more importantly, break) Victorian rules of romance;
  • Keeping it Real…ish: How to drop in historical details without info-dumping, and how to describe and explain your steampunk innovations without confusing.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Class Title: World-Building for Dystopian Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $50.00 USD Standard

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, July 27, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST


There’s no greater fear than fearing what dwells deep in the dark corners of human nature. Dystopian literature, for all its bells and zombie whistles, shines an unforgiving light on all those shadows.

Can’t think of any dystopian-genre books off the top of your head? How about:

Farenheit 451, The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, The Lorax, The Stand, Neuromancer, Ender’s Game, Divergent, World War Z, Underground Airlines, Brave New World, Ready Player One, A Clockwork Orange, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (just to name a few…)

Still, it’s a challenging genre to write. Done badly, dystopian fiction is the equivalent of that emo kid down the hall in your dorm who drinks way too much coffee and just won’t quit playing The Cure.

Done well? We get the dangerous thrill of skidding close to the edge of moral insanity, looking through a mirror darkly and seeing ourselves and our neighbors, and a hyper-creative outlet that combines the dubious fun of post-apocalyptic totalitarianism (zombies optional) with chilling truths about human nature.

Topics covered in this class include:

  • Having fun with things you shouldn’t: why destroying society is just so much fun!
  • ‘First Fright’ vs. ‘True Fright’: sure, we’re afraid of enforced barcode tattoos because totalitarianism!…but maybe we’re really afraid because it really sounds so seductively convenient;
  • Picking and choosing ‘normal’: how to balance having enough familiarities with society today with creating shocking changes that go right to the heart of our fears;
  • Fear leads to the dark side (unless you’re already there): creating dystopian characters that invite both shock and sympathy;
  • To apocalypse or not to apocalypse: do we really need nuclear fallout or an alien invasion…or can we do it all ourselves?
  • Playing with your food: how to put a new and unique spin on zombies, aliens, and food shortages (i.e. asking critical questions like whether Soylent Green is gluten-free).

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston area with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.



Kristen Lamb, W.A.N.A. International, business for authors, selling for writers, sales for writers, how to sell more books

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $50.00 USD Standard

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Thursday August 9th, 2018 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST


Writers are in the entertainment business. Notice the second half of our job title is business. The lifeblood of all business is sales.

But, to be blunt, most creative professionals would rather be stabbed in the face than ‘do sales.’ Yet, if we don’t sell books, our career is doomed (regardless of how we publish).

One of the MAJOR reasons so many people are afraid of sales is because what’s being taught as ‘sales’ is actually ‘direct marketing.’

Direct marketing is NOT sales. It IS, however, pushy, icky, and hasn’t been effective since The Spice Girls were cool.

Sales can be fun. In fact, believe it or not, humans are wired for sales. It’s part of our biology. Problem is, humans are also wired to overcomplicate things…which is why so many of us freak out over sales.

This class is to remove the fear factor and clarify what selling entails for the professional author. Not all products are sold the same way…which is why there are no late-night infomercials hawking Hadron Colliders or F-16 fighter jets. Our sales approach must align with the product we’re selling, or we’re doomed before we begin.

This class will cover:

  • Why direct marketing doesn’t sell books;
  • Tame wasters versus time savers;
  • How to be paid what we are worth;
  • Ways we can make ads, promotions and marketing far more effective;
  • The unique way books must be sold;
  • How to set goals and create a scalable strategy;
  • Explore the S.W.O.T. analysis and why we need one;
  • How to differentiate our brand and product in an over-saturated marketplace;

***A FREE recording is included with class purchase.



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  1. Excellent suggestions! Thanks so much. Comes at the perfect time. I’m just starting a new book and working on the plot.. Hmmm. What kind of twist can I put in?

    • Stina on July 30, 2018 at 8:36 pm
    • Reply

    Too bad CK’s craft books are no longer available on Kobo and iBooks. I have two of them. Shoot Your Novel is one of my favorite craft books.

  2. That was really helpful, thank you:)

  3. AWESOME! This is going to make my stories SO much more interesting! Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! 🙂

    • Deborah on July 31, 2018 at 8:09 am
    • Reply

    These invaluable tips have made me realize my story is incredibly boring! That’s alrighr, time to tighten the structure and add some twists.

  4. Twists really make or break a novel. The more outrageous and twisty you can make them (but believable), the better!

  5. Thank you for that post. It is extremely helpful.

  1. […] planning and writing a first draft and what not to worry about in a first draft. C.S. Lakin shares tips for writing great plot twists, and Heather Webb shows how to build a world and hook a […]

  2. […] up is a short lesson in writing from C.S. Lakin who was a guest on Kristen Lamb’s blog the other day with an article about plot twists. The following is just a short excerpt from the […]

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