Every screenwriter and novelist knows the thrill of penning a plot twist. It’s that delicious moment when a creative twist emerges from the recesses of your mind, promising to leave readers and viewers shocked, surprised, and intrigued.
But let’s face it, crafting that elusive plot twist isn’t just about the element of surprise. It’s an art. Whether it’s a big reveal, a change in direction, or an event that alters everything, the key is subtlety, timing, and a deep understanding of your audience’s psyche.
If you’ve ever wanted to master the art of creating unexpected turns in your narrative, you’re in for a treat.
As someone who’s spent countless nights weaving tales and scripts, I understand the hunger for that perfect plot twist idea that makes your story complete!
If you’re a frustrated writer facing writer’s block or simply looking to sprinkle some fresh intrigue into your story, you’re in the right place. Dive in and discover 37+ great plot twist ideas that could transform your next storytelling adventure!
WARNING: This article includes plot twist spoilers from movies and/or books!
How to Write a Creative Plot Twist
Let’s explore some fundamental techniques for writing plot twists.
1. Use Foreshadowing
What it is: Dropping subtle hints or clues about the upcoming plot twist.
How to use it: Plant these hints early on, but ensure they’re not too obvious. They should be significant enough that when the twist arrives, readers can look back and think, “Ah! It was hinted at… I understand the clues now!”
Example: In The Sixth Sense, there are numerous indications throughout that Bruce Willis’s character might not be among the living, but they’re subtle enough to be overlooked on first viewing.
2. Include Misdirection
What it is: Leading your audience to believe one thing while planning a different outcome.
How to use it: Introduce red herrings or misleading information. This keeps readers or viewers guessing and makes the actual twist more surprising.
Example: Agatha Christie was a master of misdirection, often making the most unlikely character the culprit.
3. Consider Your Story’s Pacing
What it is: The speed at which the story progresses, building to the plot twist.
How to use it: Ensure the buildup to your twist isn’t rushed. Give readers time to form theories and become invested. Conversely, don’t draw it out too long, or you risk losing their interest.
Example: Fight Club maintains a brisk pace, feeding us information and action, making the central twist regarding the main character both shocking and satisfying.
4. Play with Expectations
What it is: Using common tropes or clichés and then subverting them.
How to use it: Understand common genre expectations and then defy them. If everyone is expecting a knight to slay the dragon, make the dragon the misunderstood hero.
Example: Shrek subverts numerous fairy tale tropes, presenting a fresh take on classic stories.
5. Ensure Plausibility
What it is: Making sure your twist is believable within the context of your story.
How to use it: Even the most unexpected plot twist should make sense when looking back. Ensure the revelation has a logical foundation, or you risk alienating your audience.
Example: The change in allegiance of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, while unexpected for many, is supported by a web of prior events and character motivations.
6. Include Emotional Resonance
What it is: Ensuring the twist has an emotional impact on the reader or viewer.
How to use it: Connect the plot twist to character relationships, stakes, or personal growth. The twist will be more impactful if readers care about the main characters involved.
Example: The revelation about Darth Vader’s identity in The Empire Strikes Back adds depth to Luke Skywalker’s journey and the overarching narrative.
7. Revise and Refine
What it is: Continually honing your plot twist.
How to use it: Once you’ve penned your twist, step back and review. Get feedback. Ensure it’s as tight, surprising, and coherent as possible. Often, our initial plot twist ideas evolve into something more profound with revision.
Example: Many writers, including J.K. Rowling, have spoken about changing or refining plot elements after revisiting drafts.
Remember, the most impactful plot twists usually arise from a profound comprehension of your story, characters, and audience.
The Best 37+ Plot Twist Ideas (to use for your own story!)
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the plot twist examples below!
The Unreliable Narrator: The character telling the story has been lying or withholding crucial information. This twist can create a sense of unease and distrust, making readers question everything. Example: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, where the reader discovers that Amy is less than truthful about her disappearance.
Identity Reveal: A character turns out to be someone else entirely, often someone significant to the plot. Example: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, where the protagonist and Tyler Durden are revealed to be the same person.
Hidden Villain: A character who seems friendly or harmless is revealed as an antagonist. This can create a sense of betrayal and shock. Example: Ron’s rat turns out to be Peter Pettigrew, who is further revealed as a traitor in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Unexpected Ally: Conversely, a character believed to be an enemy becomes an unexpected ally. Example: In Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader turns against the Emperor to save his son.
Betrayal/Double Cross: A trusted supporting character betrays the main character. Example: In Iron Man, Tony Stark discovers that Obadiah Stane is responsible for his kidnapping.
False Protagonist: The character we thought was the protagonist dies or is otherwise removed from their role, shifting focus to another character. Example: Hitchcock’s Psycho starts with Marion Crane as the protagonist, but she is killed off halfway through the movie.
Time Loop: The main character is stuck in a time loop, repeating the same events. This can add a layer of complexity and urgency to your story. Example: In Groundhog Day, Phil finds himself reliving the same day over and over again.
It Was All A Dream: Events that appeared as real are revealed to be a dream or hallucination. Use this sparingly, as it can feel like a cop-out if not handled well. Example: The series finale of Newhart, which ends with the revelation that the entire TV show was all a dream by the main character.
Flashback Twist: A flashback reveals significant information that changes the understanding of the present. Example: In The Girl on the Train, Rachel’s flashbacks reveal key details about the night Megan went missing.
Prophecy Misinterpretation: A prophecy comes true, but not in the way characters expected. Example: In Macbeth, Macbeth misinterprets the witches’ prophecies to his downfall.
The Reverse Double Cross: A character who was thought to have betrayed the group was actually working for them all along. Example: Harry Potter‘s Severus Snape, who turns out to be an agent for Dumbledore.
The ‘Nobody’ Twist: A seemingly insignificant character or event turns out to be crucial to the plot. Example: In The Usual Suspects, Verbal Kint, who seems to be a minor character, is revealed as the mastermind, Keyser Söze.
The Resurrection: A character believed to be dead is revealed to be alive. Example: Sherlock Holmes reappears in The Adventure of the Empty House.
Role Reversal: Characters swap roles, such as the hunter becoming the hunted. Example: In Terminator 2, the T-800 becomes the protector instead of the killer.
The Puppet Master: An unseen character has been manipulating events from behind the scenes. Example: In The Wizard of Oz, the Wizard manipulates Dorothy and her friends into killing the Wicked Witch of the West.
Revealed Identity: The protagonist discovers they’re someone entirely different than they believed. Example: In Stephen King’s Secret Window, Mort discovers his split personality/dissociative identity disorder.
Unreliable Narrator: The person telling the story isn’t trustworthy, leading you, dear reader, on a merry dance of deception until the truth emerges. Example: In Life of Pi, Pi alters his recollection of events until the truth is revealed.
Time Illusion: The events aren’t happening in the sequence or time frame the reader believes. Example: In Memento, the initial twist is that the story is told in reverse chronological order.
All in the Mind: It turns out the events, or parts of them, were in a character’s mind, dream, or hallucination. Example: In Shutter Island, Teddy discovers the truth about his incarceration on the island and his own past.
Hidden Motive: A character has a concealed reason for their actions that’s revealed to turn the story on its head. Example: In Alien, Ash reveals his true purpose to the horror of his crewmates after the xenomorph becomes loose on the ship.
Moral Flip: The perceived ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sides are switched, causing readers to rethink allegiances. Example: In Watchmen, Ozymandias goes from hero to final boss bad guy after his plan is revealed.
Dead All Along: It’s revealed that a key character, maybe even the protagonist (or antagonist), has been dead, maybe even from the start. Example: In The Others, we discover that Grace and her children are the ghosts.
Alternate Reality: The world or reality the characters inhabit isn’t what it seems. Example: In The Matrix, Neo takes the red pill to reveal the real world.
Hidden Relationship: Two or more characters have an unexpected relationship revelation. Example: In Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi is revealed to be Darth Vader’s old master.
Unexpected Consequence: Actions taken by characters result in unforeseen repercussions, leading the story in a new direction. It reminds us that every action has a reaction, often far from what we anticipate. Example: In Ender’s Game, Ender unwittingly commits genocide.
False Protagonist: The character you believe to be the main character dies or is sidelined, passing the torch to another. Example: In Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the focus shifts from Marion to Norman following her death.
Hidden Villain: Someone seemingly benign or in the background is revealed as the main antagonist. Example: In Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, the mysterious host reveals himself to be one of the victims thought to be dead.
Misdirection: Deliberate clues are given, but they lead to the wrong conclusion, throwing off both characters and readers. It’s like a magician’s sleight of hand. Example: In Glass Onion, Andi turns out to be her twin sister Helen.
Resurrection: A character believed to be dead returns, altering the course of the narrative. Example: In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Gandalf returns at a crucial moment.
Secret Society: Our protagonist discovers an underground or secret society influencing events. Example: In The Da Vinci Code, Roberts uncovers the threat of Opus Dei.
False Memory: A character’s memory of an event isn’t what actually happened. Example: In Total Recall, Quaid’s world changes the moment he undergoes the Rekall procedure.
Parallel Universe: Characters or events exist in an alternate universe, often with significant differences. Example: In Coraline, Coraline discovers a mirror universe with a parallel family after she steps through a secret door.
Role Reversal: Characters swap roles, with servants becoming masters, children becoming parents, etc. It’s the world turned upside-down. Example: In Planet of the Apes, Taylor encounters talking apes enslaving humans.
Cursed Object: An object central to the story has unexpected powers or curses, impacting characters or events. Example: In Jumanji, the kids discover that once they start playing the magical game that brings the jungle to life, they must see it through to the end.
Reality Shift: What’s perceived as reality drastically changes through technological influence or supernatural events. Example: Truman discovers that his whole world may be false in The Truman Show.
Inanimate Sentience: An object or place is revealed to have consciousness or a will of its own. Example: In Beauty and the Beast, Belle discovers a castle full of live, enchanted objects.
Hidden Scene: An earlier event in the story is revisited, but from a different perspective or with new information. Like seeing behind the curtain. Example: Vantage Point explores key moments in an assassination attempt to reveal the culprits.
Changeling: A character is replaced by someone or something else, with others unaware of the switch. It’s folklore brought to the modern stage. Example: In Krull, the Emerald Seer is replaced with an evil doppelganger.
Destiny Denied: A foretold prophecy or destiny is proven wrong or is misinterpreted. Prophecies aren’t always what they seem, after all. Example: In The Lego Movie, Vitruvius admits he made up the prophecy about Lord Business.
What is a Plot Twist?
A good plot twist is a sharp turn in the narrative that catches readers or viewers off guard. It’s like a sudden bend in the road when you’re expecting a straight path. This unexpected story development can change the story’s direction, the character’s fate, or even the audience’s understanding of everything they’ve seen or read so far.
When plot twists are used effectively, they can add depth to your story. Conversely, a poorly executed story or plot twist can leave your audience feeling cheated or confused, like they’ve been led down a path that doesn’t make sense.
For instance, I remember the first time I saw The Sixth Sense. The plot twist at the end – when it’s revealed that Bruce Willis’s character has been dead all along – completely blew my mind. It was an unexpected turn, yet it made perfect sense in retrospect, which marks a great plot twist.
However, plot twists can also backfire if not handled well. For example, in the hit 80’s TV show Dallas, a main character – Bobby – is killed off in Season 8, only to be brought back at the end of the following season thanks to the surprising reveal that “it was all just a dream.” Fans and critics alike panned this horrible plot twist, and the show never recovered.
That’s why it’s critical for us writers to always be refreshing our bank of ideas! Just like a magician never reveals their tricks, we should always strive to keep our audience guessing. Reading widely, exploring different genres, and studying the work of other writers can all inspire our own unexpected plot twists, too.
And remember, the best plot twists are those that surprise and satisfy in equal measure!
Why Are Plot Twists A Great Storytelling Technique?
Plot twists have long been celebrated as a powerhouse technique in storytelling, and for good reason. Here are some of the reasons why people love a great plot twist idea!
Engagement & Intrigue: At the core of every great story is its ability to enthrall the audience, and plot twists serve as a hook. When done right, they keep readers or viewers on their toes, making them eager to turn the page or watch just one more episode. The anticipation of a plot twist or the aftershock of an unexpected turn propels the entire story forward.
Emotional Depth: A compelling plot twist can evoke a profound emotional response, either positive or negative. Whether it’s the gasp of surprise, the pang of betrayal, or the warmth of an unexpected happy revelation, these twists tug at our heartstrings. They allow writers to take readers on an emotional roller coaster, deepening their connection to the story.
Replay Value: Think about the stories or films you revisited, just to experience and understand the plot twist idea once again. A well-executed twist often merits a second look. This extends the story’s life and enhances its value as audiences glean something new from each encounter.
Challenging Predictability: In a world saturated with stories, originality is gold. Readers and viewers can often anticipate plot directions. A surprising reveal or good plot twist defies these expectations, renewing their faith in the unpredictability and freshness of storytelling.
Deepens Character Arcs: Plot twists often bring out hidden facets of characters, adding layers to their personalities or backgrounds. This can provide depth to the characters, making them more multifaceted and relatable.
Themes & Symbolism: Beyond mere shock value, twists can underscore a story’s themes or symbols. They can be used to emphasize moral lessons, societal critiques, or philosophical explorations, turning a simple story into a thought-provoking masterpiece.
Memorability: Let’s face it; stories with compelling twists are often the ones we remember and discuss. They stand out in our minds, becoming benchmarks for other movies or books.
Plot twists are a powerful tool that can make or break a story. When used with precision, they showcase the writer’s creativity, engage astute readers or viewers, and demonstrate the limitless possibilities in storytelling.
Tips for Integrating Plot Twist Ideas into Your Story
1. Subtlety is Your Best Friend
Why: Revealing a twist is like adding a spice to a dish; a little can be tantalizing, but too much can overpower everything.
How to Apply: Introduce clues and hints sparingly throughout the entire story. Avoid heavy-handed foreshadowing. Sometimes, what’s left unsaid can be as powerful as what’s stated.
2. Alignment with Themes & Characters
Why: A plot twist that doesn’t fit the larger narrative feels forced and inauthentic. It should enhance the story’s themes and character arcs, not detract from them.
How to Apply: Ask yourself: does this twist further explore the story’s main themes? Does it add depth to my characters or feel out of place? If a twist changes a character’s motivations, it should be believable based on their previous actions and character development.
3. Test Drive Your Twist
Why: An outside perspective can offer invaluable insights into whether a twist feels natural or forced.
How to Apply: Share your story (or even just the twist) with a trusted friend, fellow writer, or writing group. Encourage honest feedback. If they see the twist coming from a mile away or feel blindsided without enough setup, you might need to tweak its execution.
4. Remember the Emotional Impact
Why: A great twist should resonate emotionally with the reader, evoking surprise, sadness, joy, or even anger.
How to Apply: As you craft your twist, consider the emotional journey you aim to take your readers on. If your twist is shocking, ensure the shock is warranted and not just for shock’s sake.
5. Ensure Continuity
Why: A plot twist shouldn’t disrupt the logical flow of events in your story.
How to Apply: After introducing the twist, look back at earlier parts of your narrative. Ensure no glaring inconsistencies or events now seem out of place. Adjust earlier scenes to support the twist without giving it away, if necessary.
6. Reflect and Revise
Why: First drafts are rarely perfect. As with all aspects of writing, refining and revising are crucial.
How to Apply: Step away from your manuscript for a while after embedding your twist. Returning with fresh eyes can help you see the twist’s effectiveness and whether it’s seamlessly integrated.
How to Use AI to Find Plot Twist Ideas
My favorite AI writing program to help me find creative plot twists is Sudowrite. Here’s a story idea that I inputted into Sudowrite’s Plot Twist feature.
Here are the plot twist ideas that Sudowrite gave me:
I thought these ideas were really quite good! At the very least, it gave me a lot to work with and think about for myself. AI creative writing programs are best for providing ideas and concepts rather than for writing full novels or short stories. Sudowrite’s plot twist feature does not disappoint!
Final Thoughts on Plot Twist Ideas
Plot twists are those unexpected moments in a story that make readers do a double-take. They’re the surprises that leave us shocked, teary-eyed, or lost for words.
As writers, we have a fantastic chance to lead our readers down paths they didn’t see coming. But we need to use these twists wisely! Don’t just try to shock your audience – instead, add real depth and surprise to your story.
And avoid things like deus ex machina, where the main characters are saved from the evil villain at the last moment by some random act of God or technology. Coincidences do happen in real life, but they have little place in fiction – especially as a “great” plot twist idea that forces a happy ending.
So, whether you’re dropping hints, making sure everything fits just right, or sharing your plot twist ideas with a friend for feedback, remember what’s at the heart of a great twist: the element of surprise that sticks with readers long after they’ve finished your story.
Here’s to all the writers – may your great plot twist ideas always keep your readers on their toes!
Common Questions About Plot Twists
How do you make a crazy plot twist?
To create a standout plot twist, throw in a big reveal or a surprising turn of events that still makes sense in your story. Just remember to sprinkle a few clues earlier on so it doesn’t feel out of the blue.
What is the most common plot twist?
The most common plot twist is the “reveal,” where a character’s true identity or motive is unexpectedly unveiled. Often, this twist shows a trusted ally as a traitor or a perceived enemy as a friend.
What is a major plot twist?
A major plot twist is when the story takes a surprising turn, changing everything you thought you knew. It’s like a curveball that shakes up the whole game and keeps readers or viewers on their toes.