Hi! I'm currently planning on writing a murder mystery. Basically, the main character's best friend's dad is murdered and then near the end of the story the main character finds out that her friend killed her own father. I want this to be a plot twist, but I've never really written a plot twist before. How do I sprinkle in clues that she did it without straight up giving away that she did it? How do I write a good plot twist?
Writing Plot Twists.
For a successful plot twist, don’t give the reader so many details that they piece together the plot twist before it happens, but scatter enough information that when the plot twist appears, they have a moment of damn, I should have known; all the signs were there!
Here’s some tips to help you achieve that:
1. Give subtle clues. You don’t want to hit them over your reader’s head!
Give a strange action without specifying that it’s strange. Have a character mention something odd before the conversation is suddenly drawn away. Put an object someplace it shouldn’t belong, but don’t give the pov character time to think about why it’s there.
Instead of just planting clues like a reverse sleuth, you can also try creating openings for the reader to notice something is missing. Always try to put both clues and openings in places where they stick out a tiny bit, but could still be rationalized away.
2. Try not to bury your clues under a mount of details. If you give too much superfluous information, it’s unlikely a reader will pick up on half of it.
Oh the other hand, if you give the sense that all the details mean something specific and the reader just don’t know what a few of them are for yet, then they’ll be more inclined to care about the details, especially if they’re given immediate positive feedback for remembering them.
3. Don’t flat out contradict* the plot twist while trying to obscure it.
Don’t give the murderer a conformed alibi. Don’t have the wise old magician teach that magic can do anything but reverse death, and then have a character come back from the dead. Don’t claim a piece of world building works a certain way, only to have your plot twist go against it.
The last thing you want is for your reader to reach the plot twist and go, “You jerk! You told me this wasn’t an option! I could never have guessed this! You broke your own canon!”
* The exception to this is having new, better information come up just before or during the plot twist. The main character suddenly receives word that the murder’s alibi has turned out to be false. The character being killed had a piece of the soul of a villain known to split up their soul into parts, and that piece died in their place. Someone uncovers new information showing there have been exceptions to the world building “rule” for centuries.
4. Throw in some red herrings. You certainty don’t need red herrings in order to pull off a good plot twist, but if you’re having trouble hiding your plot twist from the readers, they can work quite nicely.
The vaguer the red herring, the better it generally works. If your world is big or your story complex enough, readers may even create red herrings for themselves by incorrectly combining the clues you set out for *other* plot twists.
5. Edit it later. Whatever you do now, you’ll need to make some adjustments after you get feedback from critiquers or betas. Make sure you keep notes on how and where you hint at your plot twist so you can easily adjust them during the revision stage!
6. Bonus: A plot twist should not be a deus ex machina. If you plot twist saves your characters from doing the work to save themselves, then it takes away from your story instead of adding to it. (On the other hand, a plot twist that makes your character’s life worse is fantastic.)