Hmm, this is an interesting dilemma! Twists have to do one thing for them to work: they have to make sense. If I re-read your book, can I see all the little things that subtly hint toward your twist?
If the answer is no, then you need to drop some more hints.
A good twist comes from not only surprise but also from logic.
You don’t have to drop a ton of hints, but you should account for your twists as you write the whole thing.
If you were writing a mystery novel and you didn’t want your readers to realize that the assistant to the detective was working with a criminal, then you’re going to need to give them the breathing room to do so.
They can’t be in every single scene with the detective (unless the assistant is the main character, I guess) if they’re working with the bad guy. So have some places in your story where they don’t appear. You don’t have to point out their absence, or you can give them an excuse, like tending to their sickly husband that day.
And the assistant would obviously need a motive. Perhaps the criminal has offered them the money they need to get their husband through chemotherapy, because they’ve just stolen the biggest gemstone ever seen. You don’t have to tell us the reason for it until the big reveal, of course. But you need to know their motive when you’re writing how they act.
If you re-read the book, then you should be able to see “oh, wow, that was so sneaky of them!”
Think of any given episode of a Scooby-Doo series. The conclusion at the end of the episode should not surprise you if you’re paying attention to all the details. If you re-watch it, then you should be able to see what hints led toward the conclusion.
If your twist is complicated, then you may need to give it some air. Show off the first part of the twist and let the characters think that’s all there is to it. Then, as soon as they sit down to relax, the second part of the twist occurs.
Example using the gemstone plot I made up earlier:
It seems as though Melissa, the detective’s assistant, was working with the Hamburglar to keep his trail hidden if he gave her the secret recipe of KFC spices. With the recipe, she could sell it to high bidders and afford her husband’s cancer treatment. The Hamburglar has the largest gem in the world, so he expects to make a lot of money on the Black Market with it after stealing it from a museum. She has been feeding false information to the police the whole book, and that becomes more apparent as more clues get left behind.
Melissa gets apprehended, but someone shoots her before she gets shoved into the police car.
The Hamburglar’s mayhem continues with some minor heists (for about 10 pages). The tests for the bullet show that it wasn’t the Hamburglar’s trademark bullet, so it couldn’t have been him trying to keep the secrets.
It turns out (10-20 pages later) that the detective’s daughter was feeding information to the Hamburglar because she was jealous that the Hamburglar was getting more of his time than she was. Someone points out to her that feeding the info just made the case take even longer. She just wanted to feel like she was a part of something. It now occurs to the detective why she’s been out of school with a “cold” lately.
At last, the gemstone has been recovered (10-20 pages later), but the gem was fake the whole time! That explains why the Hamburglar was able to carry it around so easily–it was made of plastic!
Someone finds Melissa’s diary (5-15 pages later) and learns that she knew that the gem was a fake. And they also learn that the Hamburglar was working for someone else: the person who shot Melissa… and that person is Colonel Sanders.
Colonel Sanders is on the run, but they finally find him (10-50 pages later). He is apprehended and put on death row for the murder of Melissa.
From there, you’d have to either end the book with the death or impending death of the Colonel, or you’d have to continue revealing the final pieces of plot until the book ends.
One way to keep your twists from being cliche is to make them layered with other twists. The detective’s assistant who works with the bad guy is a plot we’ve seen plenty of times, especially if that person has an ill family member or a child in danger. But here, she’s shot by someone who hasn’t been involved with the case at all–that keeps it fresh and different.
The rebellious teenage daughter is one we’ve seen plenty of times as well, but it in conjunction with the detective’s assistant makes the plot thicker, and it makes it harder for the detective to trust anyone, because the two people he should trust the most have betrayed him.
The gemstone being fake has probably also been seen in various other forms, but here, it’s made more interesting by the fact that Melissa knew this and was keeping it from the Hamburglar. And sure, we’ve seen the diary of the dead person revealing new information, but it only answers one question instead of the whole story. And then, Colonel Sanders enters the scene when he is revealed to be Melissa’s killer.
He’s a complete surprise, because the information about the KFC secret recipe was mostly kept between the Hamburglar and Melissa (which you would have established in your story, of course), and he wasn’t involved in the case until he killed Melissa to keep his secrets.
Just about anything you or anyone else can think of will seem like a cliche in some form. And that’s okay. Find a way to make it yours, to make it a story that only you could tell.
Mixing twists together and turning them on their head is a good way to keep things fresh. For example, everyone could think that the daughter was involved because she’s been suspicious and staying home from school a lot. You could make it really, really obvious that she’s working for the Hamburglar. Except she isn’t. She’s actually got something else going on, like a secret boyfriend or issues with being bullied at school.
No matter what you do, it’s going to feel unoriginal if you’re not confident about yourself and your writing.
I’ve definitely been there. I’ve had dozens of ideas that I’ve abandoned because they were too similar to other stuff I’d read or seen.
Ask yourself “What if…?” for EVERYTHING. Seriously.
Take a familiar plot and change something about it.
What if the alien from the movie Alien was cute? (I tried that, and it went quite well.)
What if Marlin was who got taken away, rather than Nemo, in Finding Nemo?
What if Frodo were killed on his way to Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings series?
As a fledgling writer, you’re often going to feel like your work is merely a terrible copy of something wonderful.
And it’s okay to use familiar plots and familiar twists, but you need to start just injecting a little bit of yourself into it.
As long as your twists make sense in the larger scheme of the story, you’ll be fine.
I once read a book that I thought was going to be wonderful, and then there were two big twists about 2/3 of the way through, and neither of them made any sense at all–to the point of making me angry. The twists were pointless and had no foreshadowing in the slightest.
As a writer, read books and determine what twists and plots make sense and are fresh (even if they seem familiar) and which ones are crap. A lot of twists and plots are crap. It’s up to you to determine which ones are crap and why and how they are crap.
You are formed as a writer by everything you’ve ever read or seen. All of your unique experiences make you a writer who is different from every other writer who has ever lived. Write your stories in your own way and leave the editing for later.
Best of luck. <3
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