Teachers Write 7.19.16 Tuesday Quick-Write with Kat Yeh

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.


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.

The Twist:


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.


Happy twisting!

32 Replies on “Teachers Write 7.19.16 Tuesday Quick-Write with Kat Yeh

  1. This is a *GREAT* exercise! As a reader you can see these things hinted at, but to write them you need to step back and recognize *how* they were done.

    I looked at Pride and Prejudice where the plot twist is the point of the entire story, and if you don’t figure out rapidly that Darcy is the hero, you’re not getting the hints Austen is throwing at us.

    The true story behind Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham is set up first by letting Elizabeth overhear him insult her.

    The plot twist in P&P is set up when Elizabeth overhears Mr. Darcy’s frank and unflattering opinion of her and her family. His rude, cold manners set him up as a villain, and his deliberate work to separate his good friend from her beloved sister supports her impression of him as a jerk.

    Misdirection: Mr. Wickham enters the picture as a flattering and charismatic suitor, happy to reinforce her impression of Darcy as cold and selfish. He tells of his happy childhood on Darcy’s estate, and lies that he was cheated out of a place within it because of Darcy’s jealousy.

    Our hints that Darcy is not as she imagines include the loyalty of his friends, his solicitous behavior to his sister, and his reluctant pursuit of Elizabeth.

    Hints: Wickham strives for inappropriate confidences; Darcy avoids them.

    Misdirection to Elizabeth: Wickham is all light and laughter; Darcy is brooding and serious.
    All becomes clear: When Wickham runs off with Elizabeth’s younger sister, Darcy is the hero who cuts through red tape, races across the country, bribes Wickham to marry the sister, and manages to keep the social disgrace from marring the chances of the other sisters marrying. His stalwart loyalty to a friend who didn’t want him (Elizabeth) and his calm and decisive actions are rooted in the cynical and loyal personality that was set up previously by Austen.

    I’m not sure the readers are misdirected by Austen as much as Elizabeth is. But this may be because the story is too well known at this point for the rascal to be disguised…?

    What do you think? (And oh gosh, now I’m inspired to add a layer to the ms I’ve only tinkered with a little. Thank you!)

    1. Terry! I love this twist – Austen does such a lovely job and the language with which she delivers those little seeds is just priceless. And yay for adding layers to your ms! 🙂 Good luck!

  2. Good morning, Kat and TW campers!

    This prompt and lesson was so much fun. It brought me back to the good old days (the 1980’s☺). I have to write that my favorite theatrical twist comes in the 1980’s Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vader says to Luke, “No. I am your father.” This changes everything. Luke questions Obi Wan. It changes the relationship with Princess Leia, and most importantly, he is shocked to learn that Vader, the villain, his is father (Wouldn’t we all be shocked by this?). After learning about this twist, I remember watching the original and Empire Strikes Back at least two dozen times looking for the hints (and their were hints) that Vader was truly Luke’s father. I must be honest that I didn’t believe it (I was 9 years old).

    Kat, I also loved how you mentioned that you use the Find tool. I use that tool ALL OF THE TIME. I do tend to jot my ideas and story (sometimes) down in a journal, but I often change things while I’m typing. The Find tool helps me find my changes (or even sometimes things that I thought that I changed and I didn’t).

    Thank you for a great prompt and lesson to start off my day.
    Happy writing!

    1. Andy – that is also one of my all time favorite twists. EPIC. I remember being completely blown away in the theater. And yes, the Find tool is such a valuable part of my revising process – for keeping track of characters, subplots, twists, etc. Keep at it and thanks for participating!

  3. No misdirection but I’ve always loved the set-ups in Holes. Such a wonderful story that ties together beautifully in the end. The movie was good too but was not able to share all of the backstory.

      1. Holes is an example of I use when I talk about a perfect novel. So beautifully crafted. And yes, misdirection can take many forms. Sometimes it is drama or added tension – or a comment someone makes during a crucial moment. I liked the movie – but the book was and is just perfect.

  4. When You Reach Me.

    I think this book is is, in my opinion, one of the best-plotted, well written books ever, and it holds up superbly to multiple rereadings as it’s extremely fun to trace all the clues once you know the ending! If you haven’t read Rebecca Stead’s fabulous book yet, ignore my post and put it on your TBR pile because it is not to be missed (and I don’t want to spoil it for you!) I can’t think of another book where the “twist” is hinted at so well, and is such a surprise.

    Twist: The identity of the Laughing Man

    1. Marcus has a clear interest and understanding of time travel. This is the big one. Marcus brings up his interest in time travel multiple times throughout the story, explaining concepts such as the fact that, if you came to visit the present from the future, no one would recognize you because you would have aged.
    2. Marcus calls Miranda a “smart kid” once. The Laughing Man calls her that … repeatedly.
    3. Marcus and the Laughing Man both have a lot of dental fillings.
    4. The Laughing Man can’t stand to be near Marcus
    5. The Laughing Man recognizes AnneMarie, even though he presumably has never seen her before.
    6. Marcus can never remember names, and the Laughing Man can’t either. He even refers to Julia (who becomes his wife) as just “her” or “she”. It’s explained that time travel makes the laughing man go crazy, but Marcus is already neuro-atypical, and The Laughing Man’s craziness is a logical exaggeration of Marcus’s personality.

    I’m pretty sure there’s even more clues than this, but I can’t remember any more right now… and I have a doctor’s appt. I have to go to! Thanks for the fun exercise!

    1. Maggie – I loved this book, but I didn’t recall (or retain!) nearly as much as you did – so cool to see all the pieces! Thanks for sharing!

    2. Maggie! I was originally going to use this example for my post! Yes. This is a gorgeous beautifully done book and a MUST read for anyone who is a reader or writer or human on this planet. 🙂 So much so that I think I scared Rebecca Stead the first time I met her with my manic fangirling.

      1. I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one with manic fangirling. I was like a golden retriever with Erin Dionne and I think she was wishing for a shock collar.

  5. Dear Kat Yeh,

    Thanks for stopping in today!

    I followed you on Goodreads and added Twinkie Pie to my middle school library wishlist.

    I can’t believe I haven’t read this book yet! It’s now on my TBR pile

    This prompt is good for me! I need to hit some mentor texts and do some thinking!

    Some of the books I’ve read recently,
    Full Cicada Moon
    Burn Baby Burn
    How it Went Down
    11 Birthdays

    All of these have TWISTS….but I read right over and through them as I was caught up in finding out what happens next. But, I can enjoy some backtracking with an eye for my own wip.

    Great prompt! Thanks again!

  6. When You Reach Me was a complete surprise.  I didn’t even really like the book until the twist, but then I loved it!  It all came together so well.

    Ooh…Gone Girl!  When you find out that Amy isn’t actually dead.  That was a good plot twist too!

    Ugh, Ender’s Game.  The twist is such a letdown in that book.  When we find out that the “game” he was playing wasn’t actually a game but the real thing, I thought it was so disappointing.  It made me dislike the book more.  Kind of the opposite of When You Reach Me.

    We Were Liars!  When you find out that the cousins are dead; that was so shocking to me.  There were definite hints leading up to that twist.  The fact that none of the cousins ever came to dinner, none of them ever emailed her back during the year.

    In HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when you find out that the dog is Sirius Black and the rat is Peter Pettigrew.  They even lay out some of the hints along the way when they are talking about the whole scheme in the Shrieking Shack.

    1. Andrea – I love how We Were Liars used the emotional state of the narrator and her confusion as such a great distraction from what was actually going on in the book. I loved that book and the whole feel of it. And Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite of all the Harry Potters. 🙂

    2. Ah Ender’s Game, how it broke my heart. That was a book I thought I’d hate, that has ended up as one of my favorites.

      And We Were Liars! My kids adored this book this year. I can usually at list see a plot twist coming – and this one knocked my teeth out. Total shock – but what a beautiful way to tie those characters and events together. Brilliant writing.

      How do authors manage to pull all of those story elements together??? How do those creative seeds get planted? My brain needs some more creative boot camp. Thank goodness for Teachers Write!!

  7. Hey Linda, thanks! And I\’m glad you read right over and through the hints in your recent list of books. I really do think that the first time you read any book, you should be reading for the pure joy of it. It\’s in the second and third readings (as writers) that we begin to see how these amazing authors have crafted their stories. 🙂

  8. Not too long ago Holly Black and Cassandra Clare were on the Scholastic Book Fair’s author video talking about their book The Iron Trial. They talked about the book having two plot twists and that one of them was very surprising and the reason they had wanted to write the book. I thought, game on. Let’s see if I can figure them out.
    I did figure out one of the twists but the other did surprise me. There was even a huge hint of a mother who wanted to kill her baby. But there were also some good misdirections that made me think it was someone else. Yes I’m being vague because I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone. However, I think I may have given too much away. ???

    1. Sharyl – I love that even though you KNEW about one of the twists, you still were surprised. I actually don’t like knowing if a book has twists because then I find myself LOOKING for clues and overthinking everything and making myself crazy — haha! There is nothing better than being surprised by a really well done twist!

  9. Jodi Picoult is one author who takes my breath away with her twists – I never see them coming! I joke with my students and tell them how I love surprises so much that I think I block hints as I read. Just like in My Sister’s Keeper – fav JP of all. I loved the characters, all of them, but I felt like I really knew and understood both Anna & Kate, and I especially enjoyed the multiple-perspective writing format. Each told her own story, and I came to appreciate them for who they were and all they’d each struggled through as Kate suffered from cancer. I was so utterly engrossed in the story, zooming through the pages. Nearing the end, I stopped to see how much was left – only to realize there was not enough to make for a happy ending, but I did not predict the shocking conclusion. There was no good way that it would end, but, zing!, a car accident that abruptly changed the possibilities that could at least exist before that. Ugh! I sat with the book in my lap reeling, crying. It is one reason I go back to Jodi every once in awhile – she really knows how to pull a reader along and suddenly shatter your heart.

  10. Dear Kat,
    Thanks for sharing. I find the hardest thing with writing the set up and mis-direction is to keep them from becoming a cliche. This summer I read the book. The Prince of Venice Beach, what I liked about this book is that you weren’t really sure how it was going to end. Was the girl in the book really the “mad” one or was it her father? And what would the MC decide about his life. Another book that did this well was True Grit. You had to figure that justice would win out in the end but how it would arrive was anyone’s guess. Thanks again for the ideas and encouragement.

    1. Thanks, Martha 🙂 I agree it’s very hard to make sure that your set-ups and misdirection don’t fall into cliche territory. And I often find myself overthinking this as I write. I think that if we try and keep are characters complex and mutli-faceted and we don’t always go with the first (easy, ovious) inclination when writing then we challenge ourselves to really create complicated, surprising worlds. Good luck with writing and thanks for the great examples.

  11. This is timely and brilliant! I am currently tucking in hints with my WIP and I am grateful for this counsel today! Thank you, Kat!

  12. Two movies come immediately to mind: Beautiful Mind and The Book of Eli. I gasped out loud at both of those twists, my mind suddenly connecting all the hints along the way.

  13. In terms of short stories, I believe that O. Henry did a remarkable job creating plot twists. One of my favorite authors, Jodi Piccoult, always catches me off guard, even though I know it is her signature move.

    1. I haven’t read O. Henry since school days – now I think I’ll have to revisit. And I haven’t really read Jodi Piccoult though of course I hear wonderful things 🙂 Thanks Melinda!

  14. I really loved the Twilight series. I think the author did a great job writing them, adding in twists and turns in each of the books, stuff that you would have never expected that would have happened and it was always keeping you on your toes.