125. Six plot twists and two to avoid

A plot twist is a story development that the reader does not expect and in which something surprising happens or something surprising is revealed. Generally, the storyteller will set up expectations and then “twist” those expectations by revealing new information.

A plot twist:

  • must be narratively sound,
  • must be unexpected, and
  • might be foreshadowed.

If it occurs at the end, it’s referred to as a twist in the tail. Aristotle, in his Poetics, argued that a good plot ending must be “surprising yet inevitable”.

Types of plot twists

  1. I Am Your Father, or Anagnoresis

The discovery of another character’s true identity

    • Oedipus Rex marries his mother in ignorance
    • Also Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back and The Kite Runner

Darth Vader

2. Flashback or Analepsis

A sudden reversion to an earlier event reveals characters or events in a different light

  • The pensieve in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


3. Banquo’s Revenge or Peripeteia

A sudden reversal of fortune arising from the character’s circumstances

  • Banquo urging Fleance to take revenge in Macbeth


4. It Was Me All Along or Unreliable Narrator

A character is revealed to be other than who we thought they were, throwing preceding events into doubt

  • In Fight Club the narrator is revealed to be Tyler Durdon himself


5. Will the Real Villain Please Stand Up

  • The villain in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is revealed to have been at his side all along


6. Gasp or False Protagonist

Death of Ned Stark in A Game of Thrones


Twist endings to avoid

1. It Was All A Dream

This is usually thought to be cheating when it’s used as an ending

  • The events of A Beautiful Mind are revealed to be hallucinations


2. The Lost Will or Deus ex Machina

The opposite of Banquo’s Revenge in that the reversal is not motivated by prior events.  An unexpected, artificial or improbable character, device or event is introduced suddenly to resolve a situation or untangle a plot. It was a favourite in Victorian times where it was attributed to fate and frequently took the form of the discovery of a lost will.

Holmes and Watson

Nowadays this device is generally deemed unacceptable.

  • Jane Eyre where Jane leaves Mr. Rochester and ends up on the doorstep of a long-lost relative

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