Twisted Tales: How to Keep Your Readers Guessing with Plot Twists

plot twist

In doing some research on plot twists for one of the books I am currently writing (well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration for this particular book – more that we visit from time to time), I thought I would put together my findings into a blog post.

Here is what I found, with practical examples.


Anagnorisis, a term derived from Greek drama, is a powerful literary and dramatic device that involves a moment of recognition or realization by a character. Anagnorisis is a literary term that refers to the moment of sudden, critical discovery or realization in a story, typically experienced by the protagonist. It is a pivotal part of a character’s development and often leads to a significant shift in the plot. Anagnorisis often involves the revelation of a hidden truth, the uncovering of a character’s true identity, or the understanding of the consequences of past actions. This moment of recognition can be both emotional and intellectual, as it allows the character and the audience to see things in a new light. Anagnorisis is a powerful tool in storytelling, and when used effectively, it can serve as a compelling plot twist.

In reference to a plot twist, Anagnorisis can be employed to create a moment of shocking revelation that transforms the audience’s understanding of the story. For example, in the classic play “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles, the protagonist, Oedipus, experiences anagnorisis when he realizes that he has unwittingly fulfilled the prophecy of killing his father and marrying his mother. This revelation not only shatters Oedipus’s world but also serves as a dramatic plot twist that redefines the entire narrative. The audience is left in awe as they witness the protagonist’s tragic self-discovery. Anagnorisis, when used strategically, can elevate the impact of a plot twist by delivering a profound and unexpected revelation that changes the course of the story.


Analepsis, also known as a flashback, is a narrative technique that involves the insertion of events or scenes from the past into a story. It is a way to provide context, reveal important information, or explore the backstory of characters and events. Analepsis can be a powerful tool for creating plot twists by offering the audience insights into events that occurred before the main storyline, which can change their understanding of the present narrative. By skilfully using analepsis, a writer can manipulate the audience’s perception of the story and introduce surprising revelations.

In the real world, a classic example of analepsis leading to a plot twist can be found in the film “The Sixth Sense” directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Throughout the movie, the audience is led to believe that the character Malcolm Crowe, played by Bruce Willis, is a child psychologist helping a troubled young boy who claims to see ghosts. However, as the story unfolds, analepsis is used to reveal that Malcolm himself is a ghost, and he has been dead all along. This revelation is a profound plot twist that completely changes the audience’s understanding of the narrative, demonstrating how analepsis can be employed to craft astonishing and unexpected revelations in storytelling.

Chekhov’s Gun:

Chekhov’s Gun is a dramatic principle in storytelling that suggests that every element introduced in a story must serve a purpose and advance the plot. The concept comes from the famous Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, who once said, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” In essence, Chekhov’s Gun is a narrative device that emphasizes the importance of foreshadowing. It encourages writers to include details, objects, or information early in a story that will become significant later on, creating a sense of cohesion and inevitability in the narrative.

In terms of plot twists, Chekhov’s Gun can be a powerful tool for creating surprising and satisfying twists. By introducing seemingly innocuous elements that later play a pivotal role in the plot, writers can catch the audience off guard. For example, in the film “Pulp Fiction” directed by Quentin Tarantino, the briefcase that appears early in the story serves as a prime example of Chekhov’s Gun. Its contents are never revealed, but the mysterious briefcase becomes a central plot point in a surprising twist, sparking curiosity and discussion among the audience. This demonstrates how Chekhov’s Gun can be used to set the stage for a dramatic and unexpected plot revelation.

By the way, one of my favourite Chekov quotes is:  “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Deus Ex Machina:

Deus ex Machina is a literary and dramatic device that refers to a sudden and unexpected intervention or solution to resolve a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story. The term is Latin for “god from the machine,” and it originally referred to the use of a god-like character lowered onto the stage via a mechanical crane in ancient Greek and Roman theatre to resolve a plot’s conflicts. In modern storytelling, Deus ex Machina involves introducing an improbable or contrived element to bring about a convenient resolution. While it can be a useful tool in some cases, it’s often viewed critically because it can come across as a lazy or unsatisfying way to tie up loose ends in a story.

In terms of plot twists, Deus ex Machina can be employed to create surprising and unexpected outcomes, but it should be used sparingly and with careful consideration. When executed well, it can shock the audience by introducing an unforeseen element that dramatically alters the course of the plot. An example from real-world literature is in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” In “The Return of the King,” the character Frodo and Sam are trapped on Mount Doom with the One Ring, and all hope seems lost. However, Gollum unexpectedly reappears, bites off Frodo’s finger, and falls into the fiery chasm with the Ring, inadvertently destroying it. This event serves as a Deus ex Machina moment, as Gollum’s intervention resolves a seemingly hopeless situation and plays a crucial role in the story’s outcome. While it’s a powerful twist, it’s important to note that Deus ex Machina should be used judiciously and with proper foreshadowing to maintain the integrity of the narrative.

False Protagonist:

A False Protagonist, also known as a “decoy” protagonist, is a narrative device frequently employed to create plot twists or reinforce overarching themes in a story. It involves presenting a character at the beginning of a narrative as the central figure or main character, only to later reveal that they are not, in fact, the true protagonist of the story. This twist often serves to subvert audience expectations and can introduce a fresh perspective on the plot. False protagonists are introduced to engage the audience and make them invest in a character before pulling the rug out from under them.

In practice, False Protagonists can be used to great effect in storytelling. An example from real-world literature can be found in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, particularly in the first book, “A Game of Thrones.” Eddard Stark initially appears as the central character, and the reader is led to believe he is the story’s protagonist. However, in a shocking turn of events, Eddard is executed, revealing that he was a false protagonist, and the true scope of the narrative is much broader. This unexpected twist not only shocked readers but also set the tone for the series, where no character, no matter how important they seem, is safe from unexpected and dramatic developments. It demonstrates how a False Protagonist can be used to subvert expectations and create a memorable plot twist in storytelling.


Foreshadowing is a literary device used to give subtle hints or clues about events or outcomes that will occur later in a story. It serves as a way to prepare the audience or readers for future plot developments and can be a powerful tool in creating effective plot twists. Foreshadowing allows storytellers to build anticipation and tension, making the eventual plot twist more satisfying and less abrupt. This technique can be executed through various means, including character dialogue, symbolism, or recurring motifs. By strategically placing these hints throughout the narrative, authors can engage their audience’s curiosity and keep them engaged. For example, in George Orwell’s “1984,” the recurring phrase “Big Brother is watching you” serves as a foreshadowing element, hinting at the omnipresent surveillance state that becomes a central theme in the story.

To effectively use foreshadowing in reference to a plot twist, writers must carefully choose what to hint at and when to do so. It’s essential to strike a balance between providing enough clues to engage the audience’s interest and maintaining a level of ambiguity to keep the twist surprising. One practical approach is to create a pattern of subtle clues leading up to the twist, such as recurring imagery or vague references to a mysterious event. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” the author uses foreshadowing to hint at the characters’ hidden secrets, creating an atmosphere of suspense. As the story progresses, the hints become more specific, ultimately culminating in the revelation of the murderer’s identity, leading to a shocking plot twist. Foreshadowing, when executed effectively, can add depth and complexity to a narrative, making plot twists more impactful and memorable.


A MacGuffin is a plot device commonly used in storytelling, particularly in film and literature. It is an object, person, or goal that serves as a driving force for the characters and the narrative, but its specific nature is often unimportant. In essence, a MacGuffin is a catalyst that sets the story in motion and motivates the characters to take action. The MacGuffin’s true nature or significance can be deliberately left vague or unexplored, as its primary function is to create intrigue and conflict. Writers employ MacGuffins to build suspense, propel the plot forward, and engage the audience’s curiosity. The use of a MacGuffin in a story can be particularly effective when it eventually leads to a plot twist. For example, in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “North by Northwest,” the MacGuffin is a microfilm that contains confidential government information. The characters’ pursuit of this mysterious item drives the story, and the ultimate revelation about its contents leads to a significant plot twist that reshapes the narrative’s direction.

To utilize a MacGuffin in reference to a plot twist, storytellers can craft the MacGuffin’s significance or nature in a way that misdirects the audience’s expectations. They can establish an initial understanding of the MacGuffin that is later revealed to be incorrect or incomplete. This misdirection can be essential in setting up a surprising and compelling plot twist. By manipulating the audience’s perceptions of the MacGuffin, writers can subvert their expectations and create a memorable twist that reshapes the story’s course. For instance, in the classic adventure film “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the Ark of the Covenant serves as the MacGuffin. Initially portrayed as a powerful artifact sought by both the hero and the antagonist, its true nature as a potentially catastrophic weapon is revealed during the climax, leading to a dramatic plot twist that adds depth and tension to the story.

Parallel Narratives:

Parallel narratives, also known as parallel storytelling or dual narratives, is a narrative technique in storytelling where two or more distinct storylines run concurrently throughout a piece of literature, film, or other forms of narrative. These narratives can be interconnected in various ways, such as thematically, temporally, or through shared characters. Parallel narratives are used to add complexity and depth to a story, allowing the audience to follow multiple plotlines simultaneously. This technique can be particularly effective when creating plot twists, as it allows the storyteller to reveal surprising connections or information by juxtaposing different narrative threads.

To use parallel narratives in reference to a plot twist, writers often employ the technique of dramatic irony. By revealing information to the audience in one narrative thread that characters in another thread are unaware of, storytellers can build anticipation and tension. The plot twist arises when the characters in the different narratives finally become aware of the shared information, leading to a revelation that changes the direction of the story. For example, in the film “Pulp Fiction” directed by Quentin Tarantino, parallel narratives are used to tell the interconnected stories of various characters. A significant plot twist occurs when the audience realizes that the events in different storylines are not happening in chronological order, creating a non-linear narrative structure and a surprising revelation about how these seemingly unrelated events are interconnected. This use of parallel narratives and temporal manipulation adds depth to the story and contributes to the film’s iconic storytelling style.


Peripeteia is a crucial element in dramatic storytelling, often associated with a plot twist. It is a Greek term meaning a sudden and unexpected reversal of fortune for a character or the storyline. Peripeteia occurs when a character’s situation takes a sharp turn, moving from a position of advantage to one of disadvantage, or vice versa. This twist can be a pivotal moment in a narrative, where the audience’s expectations are subverted, leading to unexpected consequences. Peripeteia is a powerful tool for building tension and keeping the audience engaged, as it challenges the characters to adapt to their changed circumstances, revealing new aspects of their personalities.

To use peripeteia in reference to a plot twist, storytellers often set up a situation that appears to be heading in one direction and then abruptly shift it in another. This can be achieved by introducing new information or an unexpected event that alters the course of the story. One real-world example of peripeteia and a plot twist can be found in the film “The Sixth Sense,” directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Throughout the movie, the audience is led to believe that the character Malcolm Crowe (played by Bruce Willis) is a living child psychologist helping a troubled young boy. However, in a significant peripeteia, it is revealed in the film’s climax that Malcolm is, in fact, a ghost who has been trying to help the child from the afterlife. This twist completely changes the audience’s understanding of the story and characters, making it a memorable example of peripeteia used in a plot twist.

Red Herring:

A red herring is a plot device employed to mislead the audience or characters within a narrative by introducing a false clue or piece of information that diverts their attention away from the actual solution or truth. It is often used to create suspense, confusion, and misdirection in storytelling. Red herrings can be characters, events, or details that seem significant but ultimately have no real bearing on the main plot or outcome of the story. The term “red herring” originates from the practice of using strong-smelling, smoked herrings to distract or train hunting dogs. In storytelling, it serves a similar purpose by leading the audience or characters down the wrong path.

To use a red herring in reference to a plot twist, authors strategically introduce elements that appear to be crucial to the plot’s resolution but are ultimately irrelevant or misleading. By doing so, they keep the audience engaged and invested in the story as they attempt to decipher the true direction of the narrative. A well-known real-world example of a red herring can be found in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” story, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Throughout the narrative, readers are led to believe that the supernatural legend of a ghostly hound is responsible for the mysterious deaths in the Baskerville family. However, in a clever twist, Holmes uncovers that the hound is merely a red herring, and the true culprits are human actors using the legend to commit murder. This red herring keeps the reader and characters in suspense until the unexpected revelation.

Unreliable Narrator:

An unreliable narrator is a narrative device where the person telling the story, often the protagonist, provides information that cannot be entirely trusted. This unreliability can stem from various factors, such as the narrator’s limited perspective, distorted perception, or deliberate deceit. Unreliable narrators challenge the reader’s perception of the story’s events and characters, adding complexity to the narrative. They can be used to create plot twists by revealing hidden truths or exposing the narrator’s personal biases or mental state.

To utilize an unreliable narrator in the context of a plot twist, authors deliberately present the narrative from the unreliable character’s viewpoint, concealing or distorting essential information. As the story unfolds, readers may become aware of discrepancies or inconsistencies that cast doubt on the narrator’s credibility. A practical example of this can be found in the classic novel “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. The story is narrated by both the husband and wife, and as the plot progresses, it becomes evident that both narrators have their own versions of events, creating a sense of unreliability. This unreliability culminates in a shocking plot twist where the true nature of the characters’ actions and motivations is unveiled, turning the narrative on its head. The unreliable narrators in “Gone Girl” keep readers engaged by challenging their perceptions and expectations, leading to a surprising and memorable twist.

~ Bella St John [written in collaboration with ChatGPT]

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