Plotting Twists & Reveals

You’ve started your next writing project and you’re in a rush to perfect it. We’ve all been there and done that, but we must continuously remind ourselves to think things through in order to master the art.

To achieve the best drama, your protagonist must have enough information to make an informed decision. This slowly comes out in stages. By the midway point of the entire story, your character needs to have a good idea of what’s going on and who could possibly be behind it/influencing it. In order to set up the proper twist, don’t give them all of the details (aka NO info dumping).

An easy way to keep yourself in check is by remembering:

  • One reveal per scene or per chapter break.
  • The twist or reveal should cause an emotional effect.

Leave a miniature cliffhanger when you drop a good reveal on the readers. It will set them on edge and they’ll be lured into reading more.

What is the difference between twists and reveals?

  • Reveals are why something happens (backstory info)
  • Twists are what’s actually going on (new knowledge)

Be sure to watch out for the following caveats:

  • Don’t add extremely obvious hints or references. Be subtle enough that readers aren’t able to guess until the last couple of twists fall into place. Make them suspicious, but don’t overdo it.
  • Surprise is only half of it. Twists and reveals need to have an emotional impact or create a life-altering point of view for the protagonist from the moment of reveal and onward.

The number one thing to remember is you want readers to care about your story. Show them a protagonist forced out of their comfort zone by getting dragged through the mud, almost making a comeback, being pounded into the dirt, and then very slowly overcoming their obstacles. Your protagonist should not have a perfect score against all of the hurdles you’ll throw at them, but that’s what makes for an enticing story.

Write Like It Matters

As writers we all have our moments of doubt. When starting out with a new idea, there is always a moment of hesitation where we question if our idea is “good enough.” It’s a reoccurring fear that we have throughout the whole writing process. It’s why we downplay our work, refuse to show it to certain people, try to skirt questions, and generally act secretive about our writing. We fear ridicule and rejection – having someone confirm our worst fear that the story we care so deeply about, is actually not “good enough.”

But what we have to remember is that our stories are important too. It’s so easy to look to those already published and successful authors and think, “there is no way I’d ever measure up.” Someone once said, “write like it matters and it will.” And that is all we need to keep in mind. So long as what we’re writing is something that we love and care about, it will translate to an audience. Every single one of us has at least one story to tell. And we shouldn’t let any fears or doubts get in our way. So, if you’re currently grappling with self-doubt, let me be the first to remind you that you’re not alone. And your work is most definitely good enough, which is why you need to keep going.

Keep on writing.

Writing Resources

As writers, we often find ourselves needing a little bit of help to navigate the task that is crafting a story. But sometimes, we don’t always know where to turn when we need a little bit of a creative boost. It is usually in those times of need that we turn to the internet for some inspiration. And below, I have put together a list of my favorite online sources for when I need a little nudge. 

Writing resources:

Fantasy Names Generator

Have you ever found yourself completely stuck as to what name you should give a character, or what to call a new piece of technology in your world? I’ve been there a few times and that is how I discovered Fantasy Names Generator. If you haven’t already discovered this website, then you really need to go check it out. It has literally a category for everything from troll names to steampunk city names to actual human names from the 20th century – chances are this website will inspire you if you’re ever stuck for a name. It’s also got a generator for character descriptions or story prompts so if you’re experiencing writer’s block a browse usually helps to give the creative wheels a turn in the right direction. 

Artbreeder

I love creating visual representations for my characters. There is something about seeing them come to life that makes their story that much more tangible for me. Unfortunately, I did not inherit my mother’s fine art skills. Instead, my repertoire for “fine art” is limited to questionably symmetrical star doodles and lopsided stick figures. And turning my characters into stick figures isn’t exactly inspiring. Thankfully, that is where Artbreeder comes in. It’s a free website where you can create characters. And it’s so much fun! Another app that I like to use on my phone is Dollify since it gives you more of a cutesy/anime look to your characters. 

Pinterest

Okay, I will admit, this one is pretty obvious. Most of you probably already use Pinterest for creating mood boards. But I thought I’d include it just incase. I cannot state enough how much I love mood boards. And Pinterest is my favorite place to search for and create mood boards. Not only have I found mood boards to be a great way of plotting out scenes or reinvigorating myself with creative energy when I hit a writer’s block, but sharing them with your followers on social media is also a great way to drum up interest in your work. 

Grammarly

Yes, regular spell check on your computer is great. But if you want that little bit extra, Grammarly is excellent. It will catch things that the regular spell check on Microsoft Word might not. And if you are choosing to do some self-editing of your manuscript, I highly recommend getting Grammarly, it’s worth the money.

Facebook Groups

If you’re stuck looking for like-minded people, look no further than Facebook. Especially in today’s current climate with the COVID-19 pandemic it’s not like we can just go out and attend writing workshops and stuff in order to meet fellow writers. So, going online and finding a Facebook group is a great way of still being able to get the benefit of having a writing circle but also remaining socially distant. And even during non-apocalyptic times, online Facebook groups can still be a great way to connect with other writers in your area or from around the world. I am personally a member of several, my two favorite ones being the Fantasy and Scifi Writers and the NaNoWriMo group. The F/SF one is great for obvious reasons, since it’s right within the two genres I tend to write and read the most, the members really understand the struggles of being a F/SF writer. And the NaNoWriMo one is another great resource as there are writers of all genres in that one. And it gets particularly busy around November, so it’s a wonderful support system to have if you ever participate in the NaNoWriMo challenge because it’s literally thousands of other writers going through the exact same struggle as you trying to finish 50k in 30 days. 

What are some of your favorite writing resources? Let me know!

Writing Flashbacks

There are many ways that we can provide our audience with the information they need to follow along in a story. Many of us will use dialogue secondary characters to expose important tidbits of information that are integral to the plot.

However, sometimes another technique that can be used are flashbacks. These are moments within a story that take you back to specific moments within a character’s life. Flashbacks are not to be confused with simple memories. Memories can be summed up in a few sentences like “Alice held the melting ice cream cone in her hand, thinking back to the breakup. She hadn’t touched mint chocolate chip since.” Instead, flashbacks are a whole scene set in the past that takes your reader to that exact moment. And, flashbacks usually tend to expose something important. 

I had a professor in college once who described flashbacks as sort of like an “aha” moment for the reader. They are supposed to make something click in the story, whether it’s a key plot point or a breakthrough in character development. 

Since flashbacks are usually set in the past, they can be a little tricky to write as they can be jarring for the reader if not done correctly. That is why some writers tend to stay away from them. Personally, I love a good flashback. I think they’re great for giving readers very in-depth insight into a character’s origins. But flashbacks should be used sparingly – don’t include one in every single chapter or else you’ll end up with some very confused readers. 

The rule of thumb that I tend to follow for setting up a flashback is essentially what my college professor told me. She said keep them short and sweet. They don’t have to be any longer than a paragraph. And don’t use dreams as a way of setting up a flashback. It’s too cliché. Instead, she taught me to think of all flashbacks as being a doorway for your reader. While your character might be your reader’s guide, you still need something that will take your reader through that doorway. This has to be a trigger for your character to then open up that door. For example, that trigger could be the smell of lavender if your flashback is set in lavender field in the south of France. Or, perhaps a stack of dishes crashing to the floor in a busy restaurant can trigger your character to flashback to a traumatic moment in their past. Either way, it has to be something that will pull them into the flashback and then pull them out. 

So, if your character is an old woman harboring a secret about her eldest child not being her husband’s child but rather the product of an affair with a French lavender farmer, then you have two options. You can either expose it through dialogue or some other means like a found letter, etc., or you can reveal it during a flashback. If you decide that a flashback is how you want to expose the secret then you need a doorway. If the old woman smells the fresh lavender in her garden and thinks back to that wild summer in Provence, then she needs to come out of that flashback through the scent of lavender. If your character is escaping an abusive relationship and the sound of shattering plates takes them back to a really dark moment in their past, then those shattered plates need to bring them back to the present – that can be the scraping of the dishes being swept up or something like that. 

Flashbacks can seem intimidating to write, but they do add something unique to your writing. Are you pro flashbacks? Let me know!

Killing Characters

This seems to always be a divisive subject amongst writers. Some writers wouldn’t dream of killing off one of their characters, while other writers are more than happy to recreate their own versions of the infamous Red Wedding from Game of Thrones within their own works. Within the realm of fiction, character deaths can extend beyond just those of the villains. Side characters and even some main characters can be subject to meeting an untimely death. These are the characters that readers will mourn, especially if they happen to be a fan favorite. As writers, we know that not every character’s story can end in happily ever after. But killing characters can be a delicate art. You don’t want the death to be pointless, you want it to mean something. Below are somethings to keep in mind when you’re contemplating a potential character death. 

Positive Reasons to Kill a Character:

1) Kick off the inciting action or to reveal a hidden secret. Sometimes our main character needs to experience the death of another character in order to get them to begin the proverbial hero’s quest. But at the same time, you don’t want the death to come across as cheap writing or cliched. You want this to be meaningful to the plot. In order for the death to be meaningful to the story’s plot, ask yourself if this inciting action can be kicked off any other way? Or can this hidden secret that is integral to the plot, can that be discovered any other way? If not, then you can proceed with the character’s death.

2) To motivate other characters. Again, death can be a great motivator to both heroes and villains. But you don’t want it to be the sole purpose of their motivation, meaning don’t kill a character just to get your hero or villain started on the path of their character arc and development.

3) To highlight a universal truth within your story’s universe. Sometimes some character deaths have to be sacrificial for the greater good of the story. If death is the only way to highlight a universal truth in your story, then do it. Or if you’re writing a series and you get to a point where there is no other way to illustrate a continuing theme then use a character death. 

4) It’s the only logical way of ending a character arc. There are plenty of ways for your character to come full circle and grow. Death doesn’t always have to be the answer. However, there are times when it is the only answer. As the writer of the story, you will know if this is the only way of wrapping up a character’s arc. 

Negative Reasons to Kill a Character:

1) Solely for the purpose of shocking your audience. No, no, no. You will only make your fan base angry. Don’t alienate your fan base.

2) To start some drama. If you’re killing a character just to spice things up within your story, then you really need to re-evaluate your plot. There are definitely tons of other ways to shake things up without having to kill a character. My personal rule is if you feel your story needs something shocking like a death to save it, then you really need to start from scratch again. 

3) Just for the character development of someone else.Yes, sometimes either a hero’s backstory or even a villain’s backstory will include the death of someone close to them in order to get them started on their respective paths. However, killing a character just for the purpose of further developing another character is not necessary. You can achieve the same effect with a less tragic accident. For example, if your story is about two brothers who haven’t spoken in 10 years, you don’t need to reconcile them by having them lose their mom in a firey car crash. Simply having her hospitalized with a broken leg would be enough to get them back in town and have to face one another and eventually reconcile. You still achieve the character development but without the character death. 

4) You’re unsure how to further the character’s storyline. This more applies to minor characters who sometimes serve their purpose in a story, but then we, as writers, don’t know what to do with them. While the topic of what to do with minor characters after they’ve served their purpose is always up for debate, killing them off isn’t advised. It serves no purpose and if they happen to be a well-received minor character, this can end up angering the fandom. 

5) You don’t like them. We’ve all had characters that we don’t like in our stories. And I’m not necessarily talking about villains. Sometimes as writers we create minor characters or even major characters that, as we get into the writing process, come to find we don’t actually like writing them. Either they’re too boring, we’ve gotten sick of writing them, or we simply can’t connect with them. The easiest solution to this is to remove them all together from the story. Make it such that they’ve never existed within our story’s universe. Sometimes I have found that these characters I don’t like are simply in the wrong story and once I find where they fit, they work much better. I’ve also found that if a character is easily removable from the story, then they were irrelevant to it anyways. Of course, problematic characters aren’t always easily removable like this. Sometimes a character needs to be in a story but we, the writers, just can’t stand their story anymore. Don’t kill them off, find another less dramatic way of writing them out.