How to Write Unexpected Plot Twists

Today I'd like to share some plot tricks when writing fiction. Enjoy!

Your readers pick up your book because they want to be swept away into your fantasy. In order to engage them, you need to keep them on their toes, wondering what will happen next. Unexpected plot twists are one of the best ways to pull your readers in and leave them yearning for more. This is how you can start writing perfectly executed plot twists for your stories.

First, Get the Creative Juices Flowing

As you begin any new aspect of your story, it’s a good idea to get the juices flowing with some creative writing exercises. This will help you get into the mindframe you need to let your inner imaginings out on paper. Free-writing and poetry are some easy exercises to put your brain in the mood for writing. Do whatever floats your boat just so that you don't have a writer's block. Remember, nobody has to see what you come up with, at this point, so ramble all you want, and feel free to ignore grammar (if you can). Then, you can move on to sculpting your plot twist.

Your Clues Need to Be Ambiguous

In order to effectively carry out a literary plot twist, you want readers to think, “Wow. How did I not see that coming?” In order for them to have the belief that they could have somehow picked up on the fact that this event would happen, there has to be clues leading up to it. The catch is that those clues can’t be obvious. If they are, your plot twist is not unexpected at all - as a matter of fact, it becomes expected. Ambiguity can help set the stage for the most head-spinning surprises.

Write ambiguous clues by making them have more than one possible outcome. As Rachel Sheller says, “eliminate the obvious.” Here’s an example:

The question is, ‘Who stole Mary’s drive with the secret files on it?”

Here are the suspects:

  • Mary’s partner, Steven, at the FBI.
  • Mary’s boss, John.
  • Mary’s sister, Helen.
  • Bob, The janitor at Mary’s office.
  • Mary’s 15 year old son, Hank.

Here are their possible motives:

  • Steven could potentially get a promotion by taking credit for solving the case with these files.
  • John has corporate connections who might have paid him to keep this information secret.
  • Helen has always been scared for Mary, in her line of work.
  • Bob has no known motive, but he was acting strange the last couple weeks.
  • Hank is the least likely suspect with no foreseeable motive.

Ambiguous Clues:

  • EVERYONE on the suspect list saw Mary in the afternoon on July 12, the day the drive disappeared.
  • Steven has the most reason to take the drive, BUT he and Mary have trusted each other for many years.

The two clues listed above leave the possible outcomes open, rather than being blatantly obvious.

Never Rule Out Every Possible Outcome

As your story moves along, more is revealed. Your clues will begin to rule out people and situations from particular, but you don’t want to rule out everything before you reveal the truth. As a matter of fact, at least two possible outcomes should still exist in the reader’s mind when you execute your plot twists. You can lean more in one direction than another, where potential is concerned, and even sway back and forth with your implications. Just make sure that you leave room for multiple outcomes so that the reveal has impact.

Get Inside the Reader’s Mind

If you didn’t know what would happen next, what would you be thinking? This is where you need to write from. Put yourself inside the mind of a potential reader, and explore their possible thoughts. Leave no room for the reader to guess what’s about to happen as you construct your scenes. Once you think you’ve covered all your bases, read everything again and check for hidden revelations.

Choose the Least Likely Scenario

After you’ve primed your reader, gotten them involved in the plot line with ambiguous clues and ruled out likely scenarios from their perspective, it’s time for the reveal. Who did Mary least expect to steal her drive? Better yet, who did you least expect? That’s probably the person who stole it. Take your most trusted character, and show a glimpse of their darkest side. There was no motive before, but now there is. That’s how you can really engage readers with a completely unexpected plot twist.


Now you know the basic elements of a plot twist that will absolutely shock your readers. First, prime your brain and start setting ambiguous clues. Next, keep more than one possible scenario open as you get inside your reader’s mind to check for loose knots. Finally, choose the least likely scenario and watch as your readers tell their friends about your book, trying their best not to reveal your big secret.

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