5 Techniques for Compelling Plot Twists in Literature
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Use foreshadowing to hint at plot twists
  2. Introduce a red herring
  3. Employ flashbacks and flash-forwards
  4. Create unexpected character revelations
  5. Utilize the unreliable narrator

Ever found yourself engrossed in a book, only to gasp at an unexpected turn of events? That's the magic of plot twists. But how do authors teach plot twist techniques in literature to create such gripping narratives? It's all about mastering a few key strategies. In this blog post, we'll explore five techniques that can help you add a sprinkle of surprise to your stories.

Use foreshadowing to hint at plot twists

First on our list is the art of foreshadowing—an essential tool in the author's toolbox. This technique involves dropping subtle hints or clues about significant events that will occur later in the story. Done correctly, it can add depth to your narrative and make your plot twists feel more satisfying.

Understanding the Role of Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing plays a dual role. On one hand, it prepares your readers for what's coming, creating a sense of anticipation. On the other hand, it makes your plot twists feel earned and believable, rather than pulled out of thin air. Think of it as laying breadcrumbs along the path of your story—breadcrumbs that lead to the big, surprising reveal.

How to Implement Foreshadowing

  • Subtlety is key. You don't want your readers to guess the twist too early. So, drop your hints with a light touch.
  • Make it relevant. Ensure your foreshadowing connects to the plot twist in a meaningful way. If you're foreshadowing a character's secret past, for example, you might hint at their unusual knowledge or skills.
  • Spread it out. Don't lump all your foreshadowing into one chapter. Instead, distribute your hints throughout the story to sustain the suspense.

Examples of Foreshadowing

Remember in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when J.K. Rowling mentions the trapdoor guarded by Fluffy? That's foreshadowing. Or when in The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins hints at Katniss's remarkable archery skills? That's setting the stage for a key plot development. These examples show how foreshadowing can teach plot twist techniques in literature effectively.

To sum it up, foreshadowing is a powerful tool that can make your plot twists more impactful and memorable. So next time you sit down to write, consider how you can weave in some subtle hints to keep your readers on their toes.

Introduce a red herring

Next, let's dive into the world of red herrings, the master of misdirection in literature. By introducing a red herring, you can cleverly lead your readers down the wrong path, only to surprise them when they least expect it.

What is a Red Herring?

A red herring is a false clue or misleading detail that throws readers off the scent of the real plot twist. It's like a magician's trick—you direct the audience's attention one way while you perform the real magic elsewhere. Clever use of red herrings can truly teach the art of plot twist techniques in literature.

How to Use a Red Herring

  • Blend it in: A red herring should blend seamlessly into your story. It can't seem out of place or forced, or else readers may spot it for what it is.
  • Make it believable: Your red herring should be plausible enough to distract your readers. If it's too outlandish, it may not serve its purpose.
  • Resolve it: Even if it's a false clue, a red herring needs a resolution. This can help maintain the integrity of your story and avoid leaving loose ends.

Examples of Red Herrings

Agatha Christie, the queen of mystery, was a master at using red herrings. In her novel And Then There Were None, she skillfully misleads readers with false clues, only to reveal an entirely unexpected murderer. Similarly, in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Amy's diary entries serve as a red herring, leading both readers and characters astray until the shocking truth is revealed.

In conclusion, a well-crafted red herring can add an extra layer of intrigue to your story, making your plot twists even more surprising. So, why not try adding a dash of misdirection to your next tale?

Employ flashbacks and flash-forwards

Now, let's take a step back...or maybe a step forward? Flashbacks and flash-forwards are powerful tools to teach plot twist techniques in literature. These time-warping methods can serve as a unique way to surprise your readers and deepen your story's complexity.

What are Flashbacks and Flash-Forwards?

Flashbacks and flash-forwards are narrative techniques that disrupt the chronological flow of a story. Flashbacks transport readers into the past, revealing crucial background information or hidden aspects of the story, while flash-forwards propel the narrative into the future, hinting at possible outcomes or creating suspense.

How to Use Flashbacks and Flash-Forwards

  • Provide Context: Flashbacks can offer critical backstory or context to a current situation, while flash-forwards can hint at future events to create suspense.
  • Reveal Information Gradually: You don't have to reveal everything at once. Small, carefully placed bits of information can keep the reader engaged and guessing.
  • Stay Consistent: Ensure that your flashbacks or flash-forwards align with the rest of your story. Inconsistencies can confuse your readers and detract from your narrative.

Examples of Flashbacks and Flash-Forwards

A classic example of flashbacks is found in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, where Scout's recollections offer a unique perspective on the events unfolding. In contrast, the TV series Breaking Bad skillfully employs flash-forwards, providing viewers with tantalizing glimpses of future events, which keeps them hooked.

So, are you ready to play with time? By using flashbacks and flash-forwards, you can add depth to your characters, ramp up suspense, and reveal surprising plot twists that will leave your readers eager for more.

Create unexpected character revelations

Picture this: you're deeply engrossed in a novel, thinking you know a character inside out, and then bam! They reveal a secret that changes everything you thought was true. This is the magic of unexpected character revelations, a fantastic way to teach plot twist techniques in literature.

What are Unexpected Character Revelations?

Unexpected character revelations are moments in a story when a character reveals something about themselves or their past that changes how we perceive them. This new information can dramatically shift the direction of your narrative, creating an exciting plot twist that captivates your readers.

How to Craft Unexpected Character Revelations

  1. Plant Seeds Early: To make a character revelation believable and impactful, subtly hint at it early in the story. This way, when the revelation comes, it feels both surprising and inevitable.
  2. Make it Matter: A character revelation should have significant consequences for the plot. It's not enough to simply surprise your readers — the revelation should change the course of your story in some way.
  3. Stay True to Your Character: Remember, a character revelation should still align with your character's personality and backstory. If it feels out of character, it could confuse or disappoint your readers.

Examples of Unexpected Character Revelations

One of the most famous unexpected character revelations in literature comes from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Remember when it was revealed that Snape had been protecting Harry all along because of his love for Harry's mother, Lily? That revelation not only shocked readers but also added a new layer of complexity to Snape's character.

By skilfully incorporating unexpected character revelations into your narrative, you can create compelling plot twists that keep your readers on the edge of their seats. And who doesn't love a good surprise?

Utilize the unreliable narrator

When you're looking to teach plot twist techniques in literature, consider the sly trick of using an unreliable narrator. But what does this really mean, and how can you make it work? Let's break it down.

What is an Unreliable Narrator?

An unreliable narrator is a character who tells the story but whose credibility is compromised in some way. This could be due to a lack of knowledge, personal bias, or even mental instability. This means that they present the events or other characters in a way that’s not entirely accurate, leading to surprising plot twists when the truth finally emerges.

How to Use an Unreliable Narrator

  1. Choose Your Narrator Wisely: The narrator might be a main character, a secondary character, or even a spectator. The key is that they must have a reason to be unreliable, whether it's a secret they're hiding, a bias they're nursing, or a misunderstanding they're harboring.
  2. Keep Readers Guessing: The best unreliable narrators keep readers questioning what's real and what's not. Plant seeds of doubt subtly, and let the suspicion grow naturally.
  3. Reveal the Truth Gradually: The truth behind an unreliable narrator should unravel slowly, building suspense and culminating in a shocking plot twist.

Examples of Unreliable Narrators in Literature

One of the most famous examples of an unreliable narrator is in Agatha Christie's "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd." In this classic mystery novel, the narrator, Dr. Sheppard, is revealed to be the murderer in the end, completely twisting the readers' perception of the story.

Using an unreliable narrator is a clever way to create suspense and surprise in your story. It keeps readers on their toes and makes the eventual plot twist even more impactful. So why not give it a try in your next narrative?

If you're passionate about crafting captivating plot twists and want to expand your skills in storytelling, check out Jessy Moussallem's workshop, 'Scriptwriting.' This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and techniques on how to write compelling stories, whether it's for literature or scriptwriting. Don't miss this opportunity to sharpen your skills and create unforgettable narratives.