This device is mostly used in crime or mystery novels, but most books will have some element of surprise in them. After all, if you knew exactly what was going to happen to either the character or plot, you wouldn’t read the book, would you? This reasoning may be slightly different for classics where the story is well known and part of popular culture, or a book that has been made into a movie that you’ve seen. You may know the story, but want to see how the book is written. But as I’m sure most of you, like me, don’t have books that are part of the literary canon or that have sold movie rights, I’m going to plough on.
Surprises are great. They can change the dynamic of the characters, and the pace of the book. It can raise the stakes, or bring the story to a suspense filled standstill. It’s a great device, but it is one that you have to be careful using, especially if you’re using the deluxe 2.0 version: the twist.
The twist does exactly what it says on the tin. Everyone has seen a movie or read a book where at some point, usually in the last quarter, the story is flipped and everything that you believed to be part of the tale changes. This can be brilliant, if it’s a fair twist. A fair twist is tricky to do. In order to pull it off, there must be moments throughout your story that lead up to the twist, and retrospectively the reader can see where it was going. The hints should not be so strong that they flag to most readers (you always will get some people that see it coming) what is going to happen. If a twist is effectively foreshadowed, then it is easily accepted by the reader. ‘Of course!’ they’ll think, as the story clicks into place. It’s a satisfying conclusion.
An unfair twist, a twist that is not foreshadowed at all, is not satisfactory for the reader. It can be what makes a reader throw the book across the room in temper (unless they have a Kindle. Anyone who destroys over a hundred euros worth of gadget over an unfair twist has anger management issues.) Changing the book up without warning usually suggests that the writer is too lazy, or doesn’t have the skill, to use a twist seamlessly. An unfair twist usually doesn't mesh with the story, and feels like it’s been thrown in solely to prevent the book being labelled ‘predictable.’ Like throwing Tabasco sauce into a delicate lemon flavoured sole dish.
‘You weren’t expecting that, were you?!’