(Can I please trust you not to take my photos?)
Plot twist or deus ex machina?
Plot twists can be useful for you and fun for the reader. Using the “God Machine,” or a deus ex machina, often leaves a reader feeling disappointed and cheated.
Sometimes, that technique will come in handy, and some stories rely on them. But use them sparingly! Actually, try to avoid them when you’re first starting. It can make things too easy. It basically looks like you couldn’t come up with a proper ending, so you just dropped in someone special to take care of everything. Yay. So much fun.
Not. Honestly, if you feel tempted to use one, then you may need to take a better look at your story and see if there’s a way to work it into a feasible ending.
Plot twists have to make sense in order to really be twists. They have to surprise you, not confuse you. I read this one book where it suddenly turned out that the main character’s sister was evil. The sister had hardly been mentioned and had never done anything to indicate she was anything other than nice. And there were two other “twists” like that in the same book. Yeah, they were surprising, but they didn’t make sense. They seemed cheap, like they’d been thrown in there at the last minute because the author couldn’t think of what to do.
A good plot twist is like the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone. Yeah, Quirrell didn’t seem evil, so it was surprising that he was the one who was trying to get the Stone. And it was surprising that the person who seemed much more likely to be evil was actually trying to protect Harry and the Stone. So what’s the difference between that and the book with the crappy twists? Quirrell had had some suspicious conversations throughout the book. If you re-read, then you understand that things weren’t the way they seemed. And his stuttering and such was, as the professor himself said, an act in order to hide his true intentions. No matter how many times you look at the sister’s actions in that other book, it won’t make sense.
I’m not saying you need heavy foreshadowing. I’m not even saying you need foreshadowing at all. But you do need to include something that allows the reader to know that you’re not dropping something in at the last minute, that it was planned in advance.
In the novel I’m writing, there is something that could potentially be seen as a deus ex machina at the end, but I’ve set up something in another chapter that makes it more believable. I’m sure there will be people who will call it that anyway (because everyone likes to be a critic), but I assure you that the scene in question was planned out in advance and will be absolutely necessary for the other characters to see and experience. It’s something that has to happen for character and plot development. This is going to be a series. And sometimes in a series, the author has to do things like that in order for the story to get told as it needs to.
Plot twists can be amazing if done well. If you need some examples, then pick up nearly anything of Edgar Allan Poe’s. They often chronicle the descent into madness with something dramatic and awful happening at the end. Or look at The Lion King, in which there is the unexpected revolt of the hyenas against Scar.
Your assignment: Spend at least 10 minutes writing something in which the tables are turned on your main character. Is it for better or for worse? It’s up to you!