It recently came to my attention that plot twists are dead.
I can’t remember where I heard it or read it, but people—particularly the rising generation (of course)—are over those pesky little plot twists. They don’t want to be tricked. Or maybe this news was more of an ominous feeling I had as I plotted my next book. That’s probably it.
Then again, maybe plot twists really are going out of style. They’re so... meme-able. And who wants to be a meme? (*in the back of the room, Carl raises his hand) Put your hand down Carl.
Let’s review some of the most culturally iconic plot twists of our time, shall we?
ANCIENT SPOILERS AHEAD
Empire Strikes Back — Immediately after losing his hand in a lightsaber fight, wanna-be Jedi Luke Skywalker has this bomb dropped on him by Darth Vader: “I am your father.”
The Sixth Sense— Not only does the boy see dead people, but Bruce Willis’s character was also dead the whole time. What?! He’s a ghost?!
Ender’s Game — The final game was not a game at all. The military used this brilliant young strategist to commit genocide against the Formic. That’s just sick.
Harry Potter — Okay, so he’s a Horcrux. Therefore he’ll have to be un-alived to defeat Voldemort. Wait, what?!
Planet of the Apes — There was no going back to earth. They were already there (cue man falling to the sand and screaming at the ruins of the statue of liberty).
THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON STORIES. ANY QUESTIONS?
Our brains generate bias. Often the things we hear very first from a character or the narrator we adopt as truth—even the most skeptical of us. We do this because we are trying to make sense of new information. The problem with making sense of new information is that we sort it into neat little assumptions. When we go hunting for confirmation of our new assumptions, we find them everywhere. Good job brain... real smart.
Good writers know this. Great writers exploit our human weakness to deliver some novelty we weren’t expecting. But we should be glad for our slow monkey brains. This allows us to experience a reversal that plays against the truth we made up in the first place. Therein we are surprised, and the great plot twists land perfectly and stay with us forever.
THE BEN GREEN PLOT TWIST RATING SYSTEM
Many of us would love to experience these revelations for the first time. Bookish story nerds like us are pretty much junkies—still just chasing a plot twist high. We want to throw books against the wall to prove we’re not dead inside—that we feel something. And when that doesn’t work we make our friends read the same book, watching them in rapt attention for the moment it happens.
To help, here’s a unique rating system to categorize our love or hate for any given plot twist:
-1 = The “plot twist” comes out of nowhere and is entirely foreign. The characters act out of character and the plot is unbelievable. Ew.
0 = Nothing happens in the book. Like, it’s just friends having a chat and there are no revelations. That’s nice... NEXT!
+1 = The plot twist makes sense... too much sense. I guessed it. And I’m smugly satisfied that I’m so darned clever.
+2 = This one (*chef’s kiss). When the twist hits, I have a Ratatouille moment where the whole film flashes before my eyes and I remember my most poignant childhood memories. Seriously, it gives all the feels. Not because of some interesting plot twist, but because the twist connects me deeply with the characters and their world because... of course, the world is like this and now I truly see what was so obvious from the beginning.
ONE LAST WORD
I don’t think the +2 plot twist is dead. It never will be. But it can be elusive. So, congrats to us for our dedication in searching—for turning more and more pages. And now, a cover dump of hopefully more books that can really shock us. I've scoured the internet and picked the brains of the YA SFF Authors for this great list. Enjoy! Meanwhile, drop a comment about your favorite plot twist and help us build out TBR lists.
This article was written by Ben Green
Ben Green is the creator of RIMDUUM, a world filled with underground cities, wondrous settings, and nuclear magic. A modern fantasy adventure, with shocking twists and turns.