What’s the one thing that every book has to have? What keeps you on the edge of your seat during a great read?
It’s the twist, The surprise. There’s nothing better than that little “aha!” moment when you find the secret that the author has kept in waiting for you. Mystery novels were particularly good at this. Theoretically, though, all it takes is one good twist in the story line.
Some readers like to be continually shocked. These are the mystery, those that like to put the pieces together slowly.
Other readers, myself included, enjoy a gentle approach. I recently read a book that involved a few minor twists and turns. It was a romantic comedy novel and relationships naturally go up and down, so it made sense. The author saved her big surprise for the second to last chapter. The character roles shifted suddenly. We had been looking at them all wrong. Just two little sentences, and the whole story was turned on its end. I couldn’t even wait until the end of the chapter. I had to set the book down right then and think about what just happened. That one twist ended up changing the whole story, and it took it from a four-star rating to a five-star rating on Goodreads.
A long-time favorite fantasy writer of mine, Christopher Paolini (The Inheritance Cycle), explains in an article to aspiring authors that twists aren’t always big surprises. Rather, it’s about how the direction of the story changes. On some level, you should find that your story will provide plenty of opportunity for twists and turns. This may seem instinctual. After all, well-written stories include characters that change and grow, altered circumstances, and up and downs that keep the reader hooked. Did you catch that last line? You can’t just write twist after twist without reason. You have to write in a way that draws your readers in and hooks them. Then as your story unfolds, it’ll be like unwrapping little surprise presents along the way. Who knows, you might be surprised where your story takes you. My advice is to go with the flow in these instances. You never know where a twist might take you.
It sounds like a complicating process – and I’m sure it is – but it’s worth it. Once you’ve figured out what twists your story has to offer, it’s your job to incorporate them into the bigger picture until they fit seamlessly into your story. Which came first, the story line or the twist? The chicken or the egg? I don’t think it matters. But remember to hold a little something back when you begin putting together your final draft. Don’t lay all your poker cards on the table all at once. Keep a few surprises in store to shock your readers. It will keep them coming back for more.
I’m a big fan of twists, too, Melody, and my Southern Gothic mystery, The Lies That Bind, has quite a few. They are particularly useful in propelling the story forward – and in the pacing. In my case, just when you think you’ve figured out the “big secret” another is waiting around the corner!