Good morning! Kat Yeh is today’s guest author for your Tuesday Quick-Write. Kat is the author of THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE. She lives in Long Island but is here with us today to talk about plot twists.
Come On, Baby! Let’s do the Twist.
It’s a tricky thing — the twist.
Sometimes you see them coming a mile away. And sometimes they catch you off guard.
But the very best twists will always feel like that magical combination of utterly surprising and yet inevitable.
So, how do we do this?
Whether you are looking to write a surprise ending to your picture book, throw a little curveball into your novel’s plot, or land a big, jaw-dropping OMG that trashes everything you’ve ever believed about humanity and the world, there are two key elements that can help you pull it all off. The Set Up & Misdirection.
1) SET IT UP
A twist needs a trail of tiny hints that lead up to its reveal. A twist should never seem to come out of nowhere or feel as if it has no purpose other than to shock or surprise. I love that special satisfaction of re-reading a beloved, beautifully written book with a twist and then seeing how the author has skillfully laid down the tracks that led me there. Seeing how what I thought were small story elements or little details turn out to have been planted for big purposes.
Hints should be subtle. Too much and you’ve given it away. I think I’d always rather have a reader miss a hint than feel pummeled over the head with one. Plus, if I’ve set up my story right, there will be another hint coming along shortly.
As you are writing and revising, your Find tool is great for keeping track of your hints and how you distribute them. Search key words and see how each hint or reference is shaped. I like to create a document that lists every hint of my twist from first mention to reveal. And then edit from there.
Don’t forget to think of your audience as you’re making choices about how big or small to make a hint. Something that may seem obvious to you as an adult writer who has read hundreds of books may slide right by a wide-eyed young reader who is less worldly.
This is something that all magicians know and use, regularly. Misdirection. Creating a big flashy distraction in one hand, while the other (often in plain sight) holds the key.
Use misdirection to keep a hint from being obvious. Hopefully your story will be filled with many high stakes elements and lots of tension. Use these as your distraction. If the misdirection you use is already part of your storyline, your hints will blend seamlessly into the narrative.
One of the great kidlit twists is from HARRY POTTER & THE SORCERER’S STONE by J.K. Rowling. I hesitantly say *spoiler alert* here, because I actually do know a few people who have yet to become immersed in the joy that is Harry Potter. But I did want to use an example that most people already know.
VOLDEMORT IS ALIVE AND ON THE BACK OF QUIRRELL’S HEAD UNDER A TURBAN.
Terrifying and wonderful and, if you go back and look, perfectly planted with seeds and cloaked in misdirection. From the very beginning, J.K. Rowling leaves a trail that upon rereading is easy to see. Here are just a few examples:
1) Quirrell nervously lies about the origins of his turban. Hint.
At the beginning of the story, Quirrell tells the students that the purple turban he never takes off is a gift from an African prince for getting rid of a zombie. “But they weren’t sure they believed this story. For one thing, when Seamus Finnegan asked eagerly to hear how Quirrell had fought off the zombie, Quirrell went pink and started talking about the weather…” This funny and outlandish bit (zombies & stuttering & a silly teacher in a purple turban!) distracts us from the fact that QUIRRELL LIED. He is not telling the students the reason he wears a turban is because the Dark Lord is under there. Misdirection.
2) The first time Harry’s scar hurts, Quirrell is sitting right there. Hint.
From the start, poor Professor Quirrell’s personality distracts us from his whereabouts and actions. He is scared and stuttering and weak. While Snape is the obvious Bad Guy. Mean and greasy. “The hook-nosed teacher looked past Quirrell’s turban straight into Harry’s eyes — and a sharp, hot pain shot across the scar on Harry’s forehead.” Ahh! Strange, greasy haired teacher (ew!) looks into Harry’s eyes just as the pain comes. Misdirection.
3) When Harry is almost killed in a game of Quidditch— once again, Quirrell is right there. Hint.
Early into the story, it is established that Snape hates Harry. And now Harry’s broom has gone rogue and Snape is seen staring right at him (again!) and muttering something! Hermione attempts to save Harry. “…as she knocked Professor Quirrell headfirst into the row in front. Reaching Snape, she crouched down, pulled out her wand, and whispered a few, well-chosen, words. Bright blue flames shot from her want onto the hem of Snape’s robes.”
We are so focused on Snape, that the falling over of seemingly-there-for-comic-relief Quirrell is not nearly as interesting as blue flames. He is knocked over and the broom stops —and we register that information — but mostly we are thinking about Snape. Misdirection!
Now look at your own story. Check those hints that lead to your twist. Are they obvious? Or cloaked in misdirection?
Here are some of my favorite twists: The Sixth Sense for movies, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead for kidlit novels, and One Cool Friend written by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small for picture books (check it out to see hints and misdirection in both writing and illustration!).
Today’s assignment: What are some of your favorite twists in beloved movies and books? Choose one to write about; be sure to talk about the set-up and misdirections. Doing this helps you to use those beloved favorites as mentor texts as you get ready to write your own twists. And feel free to share your ideas in the comments if you’d like.