Plot Twist Clichés to Avoid or Reinvent
Warning: this post contains spoilers
I was recently asked about plot twist clichés, so I thought I’d write a bigger post on it. Problems with your plot twist can seriously ruin your novel. However, just because your story includes a clichéd plot twist that doesn’t mean your story is bad. Clichés work sometimes and it’s not always a bad idea to include them. If your story is interesting and your characters are compelling, it’s hard for your story to fail. Clichés can also be reinvented to suit your novel and give your story a unique angle.
If your novel contains one of these clichés that does not mean you should scrap your story. Ultimately, decisions you make about your writing should come down to what you think is right for your story.
Clichés become bad for your novel when your audience can predict your plot twist from miles away. They’re also bad if they ruin the momentum of your novel and destroy the trust of your readers. You do not want anything to take away from character development or ruin the impact of your story.
Here are a few common plot twist clichés to keep an eye out for:
It was all a dream
One of the most overused plot twists in history is the “it was all a dream” gimmick. This is when the events that happened in your book didn’t really happen because your main character was dreaming. This ruins your connection with your audiences and makes all the actions of your main character complete useless. There’s no character development or growth because what even happened? This cliché can also be recognized as “it was all a game”, where a character realizes they were in a computer generated world the whole time. Inception and Existenz, however, both do it well because the ending is left up to the audience. Did it really happen? Was it a dream? Was it a virtual reality? Learning how to manipulate your audience without making them feel cheated is necessary to pull this off.
You’ve been dead this whole time
Clearly, most people know this plot twist from The Sixth Sense, which is a movie I really enjoy. I didn’t see it coming, but I watched it with my dad and he knew almost right away (I was shocked). I think maybe because the movie was advertised as having a twist, so it’s easier to guess if you know that from the beginning. Anyway, this plot twist cliché can work, but you need to somehow trick your audience that it’s not going to happen, which is hard to do nowadays. Your audience can feel robbed if you don’t cleverly set up this situation and provide very subtle clues.
You’re crazy/the main character did it
A big plot twist cliché is when the main character turns out to be the bad guy. This happens ALL THE TIME in books and movies. The most frustrating time it happened was in Shutter Island because it completely ruined the movie for me. I’d rather believe that something weird was going on instead of it all happening because the main character was “crazy”. It’s sort of like you were being lied to and it doesn’t provide much satisfaction. If you want your main character to be the killer, that’s fine, but you don’t have to use it as a plot twist. In fact, shows and movies like Hannibal, Dexter, and Psycho all pull it off very well. The whole “my main character is crazy” angle is very easy to spot ahead of time and disappointing when it happens.
The best friend betrayal
We all know stories or films where the main character is betrayed by someone close to them, usually a friend or a family member that they have bonded with throughout the course of the novel. This can work very well, but you need to make sure there’s a reason for the betrayal. When your main character is betrayed for no logical reason, it can potentially ruin your story. Don’t just say they were in it for the money if your character’s BEST friend gives them up. You need to explain their situation and why they would be interested in all that money. Maybe their own family was put in danger. We need to feel like we might do the same if we were in their position.