We love the twist.
As readers, it’s why we read mysteries. To come across that place (or those places) that makes us go “Whoa! Didn’t see that coming.”
But as authors, the twist can be euphoric – and maddening. All that the same time. That’s because we have to think of all those twists then put them in the story.
I once wrote a story where the main criticism was, “Too linear. You go from point to point to point too neatly. It’s boring.”
I’ll admit it. It’s hard for me to think of twists when I’m plotting or doing my initial brainstorming. Scratch that. It’s almost impossible. Rarely do I sit down to work with Scapple (my main plotting tool) and say, “Aha! And then this awesome twist is going to happen.”
Oh no. I have to do it the hard way. Of course.
I have to write that linear, crappy Draft Zero where everything happens neat as pie. Everything goes right for my cop. Lab results come back in record time and give him exactly the information that he needs. In the short stories I’m writing (which all seem to be amateur sleuth, female protagonist, written in the first person – figure that out), every clue is found, every person she encounters is cooperative, and the crime is so easy to solve a baby could do it. Who needs the police?
And then…cue the magic.
Because once I have linear, simple Draft Zero, I can ask myself my favorite question: What if…?
What if the key witness is killed?
What if the lab results show something totally unexpected and what might that be?
What if the sleuth expects to find one thing and finds another?
What if all the clues lead to suspect A…except suspect B turns up for the climactic scene?
In the two short stories I’ve sold – to Blood on the Bayou and Fish Out of Water – that’s what happened. I had a cute little story, until I laid it out and asked What if? It’s happened again in the historical short story I’m working on. Two drafts in and the “boys in be basement” (as James Scott Bell calls them) hollered up the stairs, “Hey, what if…?” And the ending completely changed.
It happened in the last three novels I’ve written, too (including the work-in-progress). And it’s why when asked if I know “whodunit” before I start writing my answer is, “Well, I think I do–but I’m usually wrong.”
It’s frustrating. Infuriating. And it takes a lot longer this way. I mean, why can’t I have these flashes of insight while I’m writing Draft Zero? Or even Draft One? It would save me a lot of time and effort. I mean a LOT of time and effort.
But I don’t. And judging by my May acceptances, it’s working. So who am I to muck with success?
Writers, tell me – do you know your twists when you plot or do they come to you as you revise? Readers, what’s the best twist you’ve read lately?