I found this interesting post on Pinterest a few days ago:

I'd never considered this before. I kind of like being surprised by plot twists. Then again, I tend to be so willing to get immersed in the story that I might just be (repeatedly) missing the setups for plot twists. But the more I think about it, the more this makes sense. It's really off-putting when something comes out of left field in a story. For example, the How It Should Have Ended version of The Rise of Skywalker does a hilariously excellent job of pointing out all the ways the original film seemed to throw startling information in at random with not nearly enough context. Perhaps the best example is at about 7:02. 😆🤦🏻‍♀️ (Amusingly, when my family and I saw the original film in theaters, my brother "Z" was muttering, "Don't kiss, don't kiss, don't kiss" right before it happened. Couldn't have said it better myself.) The problem with the out-of-nowhere plot twist is that it yanks the reader out of the flow of the story and simultaneously ruins their suspension of disbelief: Cue confused and frustrated (and perhaps soon to be ex-) reader: "Wait, what? What just happened? Where did that come from? That makes no sense!" Granted, I could see someone arguing, "But Candice, if we set up a plot twist earlier in the story, isn't that like putting a spoiler in your own book?" I think the key is in how we do that setting up. Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about the art of the plot twist? Essentially, a plot twist is like a good April Fool's Day prank: it leads you to expect a certain outcome and then delivers a slightly different one. And for many April Fool's pranks, there are subtle clues that can tip off an observant would-be prankee. Say, for example, someone tries to play the classic jello-instead-of-juice-in-a-glass trick on you. If you're paying attention when you pick up the glass, you might notice that it's unusually heavy or that the contents don't slosh around the way liquid does. If someone puts a rubber band around the sink sprayer, you might catch on in time to stay dry if you grab the sprayer and feel the rubber band under your fingers before turning on the water. In each case, you'll still be surprised, but you'll have the added enjoyment of having foiled the prankster. Readers experience similar pleasure when they pick up on the hints of a plot twist and "call it" before it happens. (Darn it. Now I want jello.) Unlike pranksters, however, we authors want our setup to show both the misleading elements and the hints to the truth. We typically include more misdirection than hints or put more emphasis on the red herrings, but the clues also need to be present. To use another Star Wars example, A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back both do this in the lead-up to the big reveal at the end of Empire:

  • Early in A New Hope, Aunt Beru mentions that Luke "has too much of his father in him." Later, Ben Kenobi mentions that Darth Vader succumbed to the dark side of the Force. In Empire, Luke defeats the illusion of Vader in the cave, only to find his own face under Vader's mask. In isolation, these moments don't seem to have much to do with each other. But woven together, they provide an escalating series of hints about the connection between Luke and Vader.

  • During the scene in Ben's house in A New Hope, Ben mentions Anakin Skywalker's remarkable piloting abilities. During the attack on the Death Star, Vader displays exceptional skill as he picks off Rebel pilots, manages not to crash even when Han shoots him up, and regains control of his tumbling fighter in time to escape the final explosion (hint).

  • The most overt misdirection comes in A New Hope, in the sequence when Luke asks how Anakin died. A flicker of conflict crosses Ben's face (hint) before he explains that Darth Vader murdered Anakin (misdirection). It's easy to interpret that troubled look as reluctance to tell a sad story, so it's a brilliant piece of deception.

  • The biggest hint appears in the scene in Empire in which Vader talks to the Emperor. In the 2004 edition of the film, the Emperor informs Vader that Luke is Anakin's son. Vader is surprised, I found this interesting post on Pinterest a few days ago:

What makes all this even more amazing is that George Lucas didn't decide Vader was Luke's father until after A New Hope was finished! "Impressive. Most impressive." Of course, all this setup and payoff can be tricky to execute well. That's why I offer help with it as part of several of my packaged services. Use the "Services Offered" menu at the top of this page to learn more. 

Write on,


(Thanks to Vladimir Malyavko for sharing their work on Unsplash.)