In Part I, we discussed that misdirection and timing were the two key factors in how to write a dramatic plot twist. Moreover, we looked at how ‘hiding in plain sight’ is one of the ways to misdirect your audience.
In this blog post, we shall look at a further few ways on how to misdirect your audience, and how to write a dramatic plot twist in general.
Make It Seem Like The Issue Has Been Resolved
Another plot twist is to have a revelation at the end that reveals that who we (the audience) thought did it, in fact did not do it. The method to this kind of plot twist is as follows:
- Have the audience see the protagonist ‘solve’ the issue;
- Have other characters subsequently confirm that the protagonist was right in his conclusions; and
- At the end, have a non-POV character (unexpectedly) reveal the truth in shocking fashion.
Example 1 – Who Killed Jon Arryn?
Early on in A Game of Thrones, Lord Eddard Stark learns that his mentor, Jon Arryn, has died. After King Robert Baratheon makes Lord Eddard the new Hand of the King, Lord Eddard finds out from a letter from Lysa Arryn (Jon’s widow and his wife’s sister) that the Lannisters, the Stark’s atavistic enemies, murdered him.
Upon arriving at the capital, Lord Eddard sets out to uncover what happened. Eventually, he learns that Jon Arryn discovered the truth about King Robert’s children – that they are the bastard offspring of the (tw)incestuous relationship between Jaime Lannister and Queen Cersei. With good reason, Lord Eddard believes that the villainous Cersei Lannister poisoned Jon Arryn so that he would not tell King Robert.
This makes sense, as Robert would have killed Cersei’s children in a fit of rage if he had. And Lord Eddard’s theory gains traction when Cersei denies knowledge of who murdered Jon Arryn in A Clash of Kings. After-all, Cersei is a pathological liar, so why wouldn’t she lie about this when she is so obviously guilty?
However, at the end of A Storm of Swords, Lysa Arryn reveals that it was her who poisoned Jon Arryn on Lord Petyr Baelish’s order. Upon re-reading the books, and looking back at Lysa’s behaviour, the audience realises that we have been misdirected by an ingenious author.
Example 2 – R’as Al-Ghul Returns
In the first third of Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne kills R’as Al-Ghul (Ken Watanabe) and burns down the HQ for the League of Shadows. Then, he leaves his unconscious and wounded mentor, Henri Ducart (Liam Neeson), in the care of a Tibetan villager.
For much of the middle third of the film, we learn that the League of Shadows’ hallucinogen is being dumped in Gotham’s water system. Subsequently, Batman finds out that R’as Al-Ghul is behind this nefarious act. But R’as Al-Ghul is dead, so we don’t suspect anything.
A few scenes later, though, it is Bruce’s birthday party and R’as Al-Ghul shows up… only, it’s his former mentor, Henri Ducart, who is now R’as Al-Ghul. (Because R’as Al-Ghul is more than just a man. He’s an idea, a legend, as Ducart hinted to Bruce at the start of the film.)
This is a brilliant way to bring back a character who we thought was on the side of our protagonist, yet is really an enemy.
When A Twist Comes Seemingly Out Of Nowhere
How to write a dramatic plot twist? Sometimes, this can be done by making it seem like the twist comes out of nowhere. This would ostensibly contradict my earlier assertion that plot twists cannot just come out nowhere.
However, when done well, the plot twist hasn’t come out of nowhere. The context is there, we just didn’t realise it until after the twist has taken place.
Example 1 – Ned Stark Gets Beheaded
In A Game of Thrones, after Lord Eddard Stark refuses to swear fealty to the new (false) King Joffrey Baratheon, he is locked up for treason. Subsequently, Lord Eddard agrees to confess to his ‘crimes’ and take the black. But then King Joffrey suddenly reneges on the agreement and has him beheaded.
It is a shocking twist. The audience thought that the arrangement was sorted out, and that Lord Eddard would live. But we had seen earlier on in the book that Joffrey has a capricious (and vicious) nature. Plus, the setting of the book is a medieval-like world, where treachery and grisly deaths are par for the course. Thus, the plot twist makes absolute sense in its context.
Example 2 – Gone Girl
The beginning of Gillian Flynn’s psychological thriller is from Nick’s point of view (POV). He comes home one day to find that his wife, Amy, has gone missing. Soon, the detectives find her diary. It says that Nick was abusive, and that Amy feared he would kill her. Thus, Nick is suspected of murdering Amy, even though there is no body.
But half-way through the book, we switch to Amy’s POV. We learn that she is not only alive, but that she has set Nick up. Really, she is a psychopathic genius, who wants to make her husband sorry for cheating on her.
Again, at first, the twist comes out of nowhere. But when we get to meet Amy and learn more about her, we realise that this plot twist is mind-blowingly good.
When A Hero Is A False Hero
As we discussed in another blog post, a false hero can take two forms; one of which, is when we thought that the POV character is a good guy, when really he’s not.
Example – The Drop
In The Drop, Bob (Tom Hardy) is a bartender at a low-key bar in Brooklyn, which is used as a ‘drop’ for contraband. This may give us the impression that Bob is a slightly shady character. But after he finds a mutilated puppy in a bin and cares for it, the audience sees him for what he is: an overall good guy, who turns a blind eye to some illegal stuff.
However, Bob is not a good guy at all. Towards the end, we learn that Bob is really a brutal murderer, who lies to both the police and to Nadia.
Less Dramatic Plot Twists
A plot twist just entails that something happens to change the course of the narrative in an unexpected direction. While writers should aim to make their plot twists dramatic (as they’re the best kind), a plot twist doesn’t have to be dramatic, per se.
Example – Lord Balon’s Plan To Invade The North
In A Clash of Kings, Theon Greyjoy returns to Pyke after a nine-year absence to inform his father, Lord Balon, of King Robb Stark’s plans. Robb has agreed to make Lord Balon King of the Iron Islands again, and will give back Theon to be his heir, if Lord Balon uses his fleet against the Lannisters.
It is a good, fair plan in the audience’s eyes. But Lord Balon laughs at it and throws the letter in the fire. Theon (and the audience vicariously) is stunned at what his father has done. Lord Balon is getting what (we perceive) he wants.
But then Lord Balon reveals his own plans – to attack the North, which is devoid of soldiers because they are fighting in the south. This is a plot twist because we expected Lord Balon to go through with Robb’s plans. It just isn’t a particularly dramatic plot twist, as the repercussions of Lord Balon’s decision come later.
Thank you for reading these blog posts on how to write a dramatic plot twist. I hope you have enjoyed them, and found them useful.
Let me know what you think in the comments below,
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