author, creative writing, writing

Novel Writing: Is the Twist too Obvious?

Morning writers! I hope you are well.

One feeling I’ve had since I started planning my novel, and one that’s certainly intensified as I write and re-write, is worry. I am writing a murder mystery, and keeping the killers identity a secret until the end is pretty hard to do. It’s not hard to leave the reveal to the end, but it is hard trying to make sure the twist isn’t too obvious.

I’m sure plenty of you can resonate here. Don’t you hate it when you read a story that promises a shock twist, only to find out it’s what you’d been expecting all along? With these worries in mind, I’d like to share some tips and thoughts on the matter.

1. Remember, it’s obvious to you
I have no idea if my plot twists are obvious. So far, I am the only person who has read my story, who even knows anything about it. And, most crucially, I know what happens. When you’re the writer, it can be easy to assume that your twists are too obvious, but remember, of course it’s obvious to you! You know what happens, you know what to look out for! Just because it’s obvious to you, doesn’t mean it will be to any future readers.
writing a novel

2. Don’t make it so unobvious, it’s obvious
If, like me, you’re writing a story that has a bit of a “who done it?” scenario, there are some surefire ways to make the big reveal obvious. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to make the culprit so unobvious that you blend them into the background and never allow them to even be considered as a suspect. Doing this can lead readers to assume that your character is so unobvious that they must’ve done it.

3. Don’t make your twist too random or unrealistic
I have read a couple of books in the past where I’m certain the author just wanted to create an impact with the element of surprise.  However, the twist was so random or out of the blue that, for me, it ruined the story. If the only way you can think to incorporate a plot twist is to introduce something that has no relevance, and no build up, then you could end up disappointing some readers.

4. Keep the readers guessing
In the case of a murder mystery it can be a great idea to keep the reader guessing. This way, even if they suspect the culprit early on, they’ll constantly second guess themselves, keeping the read enjoyable. My example of this is The Girl on the Train. I guessed, pretty early on, who Megan’s killer was. But the book was so well written, that I kept second guessing myself, so when the reveal came I was still impressed.

5. Use red herrings and suspects to your advantage
Red herrings, the art of misleading! Take any opportunity to make a character seem guilty, especially in small subtle ways. You’ll keep the reader on their toes, as they are constantly introduced to new possibilities. The same goes for suspects. Just when it seems that someone is in the clear find ways to make them look guilty again.
writing a novel (1)

6. Get feedback from beta readers
We discussed above that of course, your novel’s twist is obvious to you as the writer. Getting beta readers, or trusted friends and family, to read your book and offer feedback will be really helpful. I am looking forward to doing this myself. Ask them to keep note of anyone/anything they suspect, and also to note where/when in the book they change their mind. You’ll soon see if people are figuring out the truth too soon, or if your well kept secret has remained under wraps.

7. Be okay with people guessing
We must accept that there will always be people who figure it out. Everyone reads and takes in stories differently, and so it’s inevitable that some people will predict the twist or ending. There will be books you’ve read and figured out that other people simply couldn’t predict, and books that some people say were obvious but totally surprised you. Learn to be okay if some people make accurate guesses.
writing a novel (2)

I’m sure I’m not the only one with this fear of being obvious. Still, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, so please comment below!

Until then,
Keep writing,

27 thoughts on “Novel Writing: Is the Twist too Obvious?”

  1. All very good points. I don’t mind so much figuring out “who done it”, if the getting there is still enjoyable. But as you touched on in #3, I really hate it when the twist is so random as to be ridiculous. “I’ve hated her all my life!” Really? There was absolutely no evidence to make me believe that throughout the story, so popping up at the end without any sort of clue alluding to it is going to really annoy me. It’s a lazy solution of a reason. The reader should be able to go back through the story and see tiny little things that in hindsight are a little suspect but were so minor as to be overlooked by the grosser acts of others.

    Good post, and not a topic I’ve often seen addressed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is why I don’t usually write mysteries! Uggg, so complicated. But a double “yes” on red herrings. This is something one of my readers told me once, that I didn’t offer a good red herring to distract the reader. In my defense, it was only a 4000 word short story, so I didn’t have much space but…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beta readers are the best! I’ve only recently found a couple following an intensive writing course and the first point you made under, ‘remember, it’s obvious to you’ is spot on. When a beta reader comes on board, you realise where you need to make things more obvious, and put more of what’s in your head into the story.
    I plan to keep the final twist to myself though, until it’s time for my beta readers to read the entire thing, rather than snippets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds great! I haven’t got any beta readers for my WIP yet, but general advice suggests they’re amazing! Can’t wait for some real honest feedback on my work. Really glad to hear your finding beta readers really helpful, and I think you’re right to keep the big twist back for now!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love these tips, M! I’ve also written a story where I’ve wondered if the twist is too obvious, and you’re right, it’s because I’m too close to it. Also love your advice on what to ask beta readers as they’re reading. Will keep that in mind for future works. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for the tips! Mystery is definitely something I enjoy reading more than I think I’ll ever enjoy writing! Its a tricky thing to do, but you seem to have it covered! The best thing about this post though, that as well as a mystery, this post can relate to all types of genres! And I think I needed that little bit of reminding that it’s only me whose seen this manuscript so far, so the twists it takes (hopefullly) won’t be as obvious to everyone else! Thank you for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Some great advice here. At the other side of the coin so to speak, I read a book last year where the culprit was not introduced until the last but one chapter. I was so angry that I had invested time reading the book and the culprit was no where to be seen until right at the end. All that time spent distrusting other characters too. If I hadn’t been so angry I might have even re-read it, as it is I have never read anything by the same author since.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m new to your blog – I found you through a blogging friend who follows your blog. I’m really into reading psychological thrillers at the moment. The Girl On The Train started it all for me last year. These are great tips, as my fourth novel idea that’s percolating is somewhat of a mystery. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Very interesting stuff.
    I haven’t written any mysteries, though I have read a few. I think it’s a very fine line, the “no one figures it out ahead of time”, but afterwards it feels like the only fitting choice.

    Part of me wonders if one solution is to intentionally craft 3 or more suspects/explanations that fit, and then subtly tweak the circumstances, and evidence, to make the correct answer slightly “more fitting”.

    I definitely feel like, as the architect/author, it’s important to have a few candidates that “could fit”. The trick would be carefully managing it so that the correct answer was at least slightly “more fitting”.
    Another possible strategy could be to make sure that the “correct answer” stands apart from the others.

    I’m reminded of a Sherlock Holmes mystery involving a horse drawn carriage. Every character had a theory about which direction the “group” had traveled, but Holmes declared that they hadn’t traveled anywhere. They had driven away from the train station, and then come right back, arriving at a nearby destination.

    Part of the trick was in concealing the relevant information amidst several “seemingly relevant facts” that had no bearing on the truth.
    Very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Adam. It is a lot of fun playing around with suspects and planting red herrings. Plus the subtle clues that can go missed, but help the reveal make sense in the end. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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