Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Trouble with Supporting Characters

With most stories, we create supporting characters to help tell the story; a way of adding dimension, depth and colour, as well as lending support – be it in a good way or bad way – to the protagonist.
A story full of people is like real life. Some are good, some bad and some are fleeting. In fiction they have an important role to play because those supporting characters help the writer tell a vivid story that keeps the reader involved by sometimes utilising them as viewpoint characters. They may even be involved in subplots.
To help move the story forward, they are involved to a degree with the protagonist and his/her story, therefore they can cause conflict, change the direction of the story or affect the lead character. All this helps the reader understand the complex dynamics of characterisation.
But there are some drawbacks with supporting characters, and writers usually don’t discover these problems until they are well into writing their novels.
Most supporting characters that inhabit the main story shouldn’t really number more than a handful, otherwise the reader may become confused with who is who and it may be difficult for the reader (and the writer) to keep track of a multitude of people. Aim for clarity and don’t overburden a manuscript with a cast of hundreds.
Most novels have the protagonist and antagonist as main or primary characters. The secondary or supporting characters tend to be family members, close friends or colleagues, sidekicks/partners – who may be with the hero or they could be associated with the villain - mentors or teacher types, and of course, the clichéd love interest.
So what are the drawbacks of these supporting characters?
The main one is that some secondary characters have a habit of taking over or stealing the spotlight. In other words, the writer hasn’t recognised that the character has overshadowed the protagonist. This is a common problem, particularly in the first draft, because the writer is simply writing the bare bones of the story and needs to get it written.
First drafts tend to be the foundation of the story; the skeletal structure that will ultimately become a full blown novel, so the writing isn’t that structured, it may meander from the main plot from time to time and some things may fall into the background when they should be in the foreground.
These issues are ironed out in editing and redrafting. The writer should spot this. Remember that the story is about the protagonist – it’s his or her personal story, so the majority of the spotlight should always be on your hero.
If you see that one of the supporting characters has stolen that spotlight, then you need to make some cuts to bring your main character back into focus.
But how do you spot this? The best way to check is to count how many of your chapters relate to your protagonist. Then count how many relate to secondary characters. Most novels will have a main character percentage that hits around 70%.  So if you see that Character B appears in 35% of the book, Character C appears in 20% and Character D is 10%, you will see just how much of the limelight your protagonist has by comparison. In this example, the hero appears in only 35% of the time, which is the same as Character B.
So whose story is it? The protagonist or Character B?  If the balance isn’t addressed, it can cause major headaches and the reader may not be sure just whose story it really is.
The other problem with your supporting characters is that often – and this occurs with new writers – one or more turn into a cliché.  The love interest character is a cliché, there’s no getting away from it. It’s up to the writer to make the writing dynamic and clever enough to escape that label and present the story in such a unique way that it’s not even noticeable.
As an example, the “damsel in distress who needs rescuing” character is a huge cliché and almost always crops up in manuscripts. This is the 21st Century – women can kick ass, too. The other most often used clichéd character is the “stupid woman” who never listens to her hero boyfriend and decides to leave the safety of the car to investigate the creepy noises, despite being told not to. Or the one that runs from the haunted house in nine inch stilettoes and keeps falling over. There is also the one that walks stupidly into danger so that the hero can – you guessed it – rush in a save her.  This is contrivance ex machina.
Not all women are stupid and need the hero to save them every other chapter. The amount of writers that still do this is astonishing.
Another problem is that writers often inadvertently switch importance of characters halfway through writing, which means the protagonist and secondary character swap places. This confuses the story for the writer and reader. Be aware of this and correct it at editing and redrafting stage, or rewrite the story to change the protagonist. Be clear before you start writing just whose story it is.
Sometimes the supporting cast can turn out to be more wooden than a forest. If that happens, the story won’t have the support it needs, since the secondary characters help to tell the story. Characterisation is just as important for them as it is for your protagonist.
Supporting characters may not share equal spotlight with the hero, but their presence is what makes the story, so it’s important that they help bring the story to life without causing trouble. Be clear from the start who your characters are and what role they will play.  That way you will avoid these common problems.

Next week: Why your story needs high stakes.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

How to Write Dramatic Dialogue

We’ve looked at this subject before, back in 2013, but it’s always worth a revisit.

Dialogue is one of those things that a lot of writers feel insecure about. This may be because it’s sometimes hard to ensure dialogue is active, dynamic, interesting and realistic for readers, instead of being forced or stilted, melodramatic, hackneyed or just plain terrible. Readers aren’t interested in mundane pleasantries and chit-chat. They’re interested in the action and nitty-griity, the stuff that really matters.

The key to getting dialogue right is down to listening to real life conversations and observing how people interact when communicating with each other, because dialogue isn’t just about one character saying something to another. It also involves a certain amount of physicality – movement, gestures, ticks etc. And of course, each character is individual and therefore has a unique voice, a certain way of talking and acting, so this should be apparent when you write dialogue.

Dramatic dialogue enhances the atmosphere and mood of the scene by utilising emotions – anger, sadness, betrayal, frustration etc. Emotions are what lift ordinary dialogue from the page and brings the reader closer to the story. Dialogue without emotion is flat and boring, so it’s important to engage the reader in this way.

When people engage in a conversation, particularly passionate discussion, you’ll hear certain tones and pitches within people’s voices, with some people showing abrupt rhythms in their speech, while others have almost ‘sing-song’ rhythms.  All these nuances show the individual personalities of your characters. They are character revealing, which dialogue should be.

Let’s look at the some examples of emotionless dialogue and the affect it has on the reader:

‘The crash happened this afternoon. I wasn’t there, but I got a phone call,’ he said.

‘That’s terrible,’ she said. ‘If there is anything we can do, just say.’

‘Thanks, but it’s done, there's nothing anyone could have done,’ he said.

This type of flat, uninspiring dialogue is very common among new writers. It’s not a bad thing, but it means that it just takes time to show the reader the emotion of the moment with the characters. If the scene is dramatic, the dialogue should show this, without being over the top, of course.  So, rewritten with some warmth and emotion, it would be like this:

The knot in his throat tightened. ‘The crash happened this afternoon. I wasn’t there, but I got a phone call.’

‘Oh, Peter, that’s terrible,’ she said, and her expression sank. ‘If there is anything we can do, anything at all, just say.’

He half smiled through his hurt; a pretence. ‘Thanks, I appreciate it, but I feel so terrible, I feel I should have been there - there's nothing anyone could have done...’

This time around, there are hints to what the characters are feeling because it shows the tightening of the throat – emotion does that, or if you try to stifle crying. Her expression ‘sank’ and he half smiled to hide his true feelings of pain. This is more realistic, with reactions that carry more emotion for the reader.

Anger is another emotion that can create dramatic dialogue. If you’ve heard people in real life arguing, it involves shouting, pitched voices, being loud, as well as being physical, and lots of gestures and sudden movements. Any dramatic dialogue should capture this to make the reader believe in the emotion, and the realism, of it all, for example:

‘Why are you saying this? She was standing there one minute and vanished the next, I swear.’

Halsted sighed. ‘Look, Mr Van Bruen, your wife wasn’t with you when you entered the store.’

‘Yes she was! Why don’t you believe me?’

Halsted leaned forward. ‘Please, sir, you need to stay c--’

Van Bruen shot up from the chair. ‘No! I won’t stay calm. You’re not listening to me. None of you are listening to me!’ His eyes widened and coloured with irritation. ‘You’re all the damn same, all of you...’

This example uses pace and punchy sentences to create tension within the dialogue, together with sentences being interrupted and the inclusion of sudden movements from the main character, who reacts badly to the questioning. The shows the reader the emotions that simmer beneath the surface. Not only that, but it doesn’t resort to being over-dramatic. The reader could relate to the situation.

Dialogue, dramatic or otherwise, should always move the story forward and also reveal your characters. What the reader won’t learn about your characters in narrative, they will learn from your characters through dialogue.

The other thing you can do to manipulate the reader’s emotions and create tension and is to create obstacles to communication between characters.  For instance, if character A is trying to get his point across about something extremely important, perhaps life changing, then provide resistance from character B or C; something that provides tension and frustration. For example:

‘You should at least look at the figures,’ Cole said.

‘I don’t need to look at figures. This business is just fine without your meddling,’  Davis said, unconcerned.

‘How can it be fine when it’s losing so much money?’ he shot back. ‘You can’t bury your head in the sand and hope for the best. You need to look at these figures because people’s jobs depend on it.’

Davis stood up. ‘I don’t need a jumped up little would-be accountant trying to tell me how to run my own damn business, otherwise you can find another job. Got that?’

Cole shrank beneath Davis’ shadow.

‘Now stop bothering me and get back to work...’

As the reader, you want Cole to get through to the stubborn Davis, but he’s thwarted.This is a common way for writers to create tension and drama in their dialogue, and again the reader will relate to this.

Dramatic dialogue needs drama and conflict and emotions to work. Without these ingredients, the dialogue will be flat and boring.

To summarise:

  • Dramatic scenes require dramatic dialogue.
  • Know your character’s motivations and desires – create obstacles in their conversations, get them passionate or frustrated or angry. Get the most from their dialogue.
  • Emphasise speech – use tone and pitch and contrasting rhythms.
  • Keep the dialogue short and snappy.  People don’t chit-chat when in an emergency, neither should your characters.
  • Emotions and tensions and conflict all create drama.
  • Create immediacy with your reader – make them relate to the characters and their situation.
Next week: The trouble with your supporting characters

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Creating Realistic Fight Scenes – Part 3

Part 2 looked at the various elements writers can use to construct better fight scenes, and more importantly, more realistic ones.

Realism, physicality, exposition and the balance of power etc, should play a part in the construction of fight scenes.  Think about who your characters are, why they are fighting and what it may or may not achieve. The fight/conflict must move the story forward and there must be a reason behind them.

Let’s look at some different examples, starting with this one:

Dave jolted forward and swiped his hand across John’s throat; defensive, desperate.

John fumbled with the gun, his nerves shattered. Then it was in his hand.

Dave sidestepped and snapped a leg out, hard and quick, his hot breath lodged in his throat, his heartbeat loud in his ears.

John crumpled, the gun still in his hand. Still a threat.


Dave kicked again. No hesitation. Then another, harder, with anger...

In this first example, the description is fast and punchy and gives the reader the perception that everything is happening very quickly. Not only that, but there is some emotion – a sense of panic and fear and adrenaline that gives the character, Dave, a ‘fight or flight’ response.

This second example is written differently, but still retains the dramatic effect that fights scenes rely on:

The soldier ran from the darkness like a salivating wolf and aimed at the boy.

Dmitry sprawled against the dirty floor as bullets thumped into the wood around him. He managed to fire off a couple of shots into the darkness, not knowing where the bullets hit. He didn’t hear the shots, but instead he heard a surreal cacophony of screaming and shouting and the metallic clink of empty shells that poured like a coppery stream onto the wooden floor. His body remained stiff and his face creased against the flare of dust. But in his mind the fear of the moment almost drowned his thoughts, that any moment he would die, ripped open by grey-uniformed ghosts.

Another close shot snapped against the wooden railing and startled him.

In this example, the use of more description makes the pace a little slower, thus giving the reader extra time to process what’s happening. Although still a fight scene, it’s allowing the reader to take in the imagery and be more involved, more so than a faced paced scene would do. By deliberately slowing down the perception of the narrative, it appears as though the event is happening in slow motion.

These type are effective and unique fight scenes. They’re slightly different and not the usual cliched fight scene so often seen in movies. Instead of the usual breakneck speed and explosive nature normally associated with a fight, especially with weapons, instead this one takes a measured, logical approach that incorporates the character’s own thoughts and emotions to create the same dramatic impact.

There is a tendency for writers to over-describe sometimes with these types of fight scenes, but in truth the reader doesn’t need to see every movement, every punch, every kick or every stumble, otherwise reading it will become a chore.  As with all description, it’s about balance. Give the reader drama, but make it visual.

It’s worth reiterating that the hero isn’t superhuman and should not win every fight.  Your characters must be flawed and sometimes vulnerable, but as the story progresses, the character grows and develops, and learns from previous encounters. That way, future fights will be in his or her favour.

Compared to the other examples, this one is more raw and gritty:

Deke’s eyes blurred. Blood, snot. Trickling sensations.

Jenson’s fist connected with flesh. Again and again, arms swinging, and all Deke could do was push and flail while breath rushed in and out of his chest and made it hard to breathe, while the sound of Jenson’s exertions filled his ears as their heads clashed.

Senses fizzed. Desperation made Deke pummel Jenson’s torso in a flurry of awkward punches, anything to get away...

In this example, we see the scrappy, uncoordinated side seen in  real fights. This is more representative of real life and shows a more realistic balance of power between the characters.

These examples make use of the various useful elements that make fight scenes tight, pacey, believable and realistic for the reader. Whether you want something fast and dramatic, something with deep perspective and more description, or whether it’s scrappy realism, know what kind of fight you want to construct, know why and and, of course, know what it will convey to the reader.

Remember, don’t force fight scenes or depend on deus ex machina to make them work. They happen for a reason, which is important to the plot and the main character. They happen in order to enhance the narrative, characterise and push the story forward.

Next week: How to write dramatic dialogue

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Creating Realistic Fight Scenes – Part 2

Part 1 looked at the ways writers can come unstuck when writing fight scenes and the common errors they should avoid, particularly with clichés, stilted dialogue (and action), and info dumps.

This week we’ll look at the ways to formulate fight scenes and “choreograph” them properly so that they appear dynamic, interesting and compelling for the reader. More importantly, they should appear realistic as opposed to unrealistic and completely unbelievable.

The important thing to these kinds of scenes – or any with conflict – is the actions and reactions of your main character, based on his/her personality and character, which has already been established within the story. In other words, if your character is a mild mannered type of person who is rather laid-back and has no specialist knowledge of martial arts or combat, then his fighting skills should reflect this.

With practice, fight scenes can be much easier to get to grips with than writers think. Creating realistic fight scenes relies on several factors to make them work well.

Every fight scene is about the balance of power – it’s about how your character will fight his way out of a situation. That doesn’t necessarily mean he has to win the fight – but rather that the reader is aware of the balance of power within that situation. If the reader knows the villain is a much stronger character, their expectation is that he will win this particular fight, therefore it builds the tension towards the next fight/conflict, where the balance of power will have shifted in favour of the hero, because naturally the writer has to escalate these things to create the require tension and drama.

Balance of Power

The story of David and Goliath is interesting to us for a very good reason – it’s about the weaker character defeating a powerful one in the simplest way. This principle makes the fight scene that much interesting for the reader.

In most stories, the main character is the underdog, and therefore weaker, so instead of relying on deus ex machina to let your hero defeat the henchmen with superhuman strength and fighting knowledge hitherto dormant and unknown to the reader, you use the David and Goliath principle and find a way for your main character to defeat the villain in a simple but effect way, something that keeps the reader interested because of the tension and drama.

Often these fight scenes rely on your main character using brain against brawn by outwitting the aggressor. This always makes for an interesting read, because it’s not always what the reader expects, but it’s satisfying for them nonetheless.

Every Fight Should be Unique

Approach each fight differently. Don’t use the same formulaic sequence over and over again. Every fight in real life is different, and therefore fiction should reflect this.

A good writer will vary dramatic tension in fight scenes, or show different perspectives. Try to write your fight scenes differently in order to make them unique. Some writers make their fight scenes almost poetic and visceral, while others might go for brevity with short, sharp descriptions or raw bluntness, so the way the scenes are choreographed with description helps the reader “see” the scene in their minds.

Not only that, but actions have reactions, so any fight scene will have a series of actions and reactions between the characters. If the villain grabs the hero’s weapon, how will the hero react? If the hero is in the position to overcome the villain, how will the villain react?  And so on.

It’s how fight scenes are constructed that makes them interesting, tense, dynamic and distinct.

Every Fight Happens for a Reason

There is always a reason behind conflict, so fight scenes should happen because the story demands it, not because the writer wants to amuse and titillate the reader in a bid to keep them interested. Lots of fights and explosions might work in the movies, but in fiction it may not.

Fight scenes are and should be plot driven – a natural element within the story that develops from the conflict and tension between protagonist and antagonist, rather than an orchestrated contrivance deliberately created, which readers will easily see through and won’t thank you for.

Let fights scenes develop naturally. Don’t force them.


It’s surprising how many writers forget the physicality of fight scenes. While size is no guarantee of strength, generally speaking, if a teenager is up against a large, muscular opponent, the chances are he’s not going to win that fight – unless he has the advantage of weapons...or an army hiding behind him.

Always take into account the physicality of your characters when constructing fight scenes. Think about how they move and react. Would a man’s punch to a young boy knock him out? It’s very likely. If he’s slim and agile, would he be able to move around more swiftly than his much bigger, bulkier opponent? It’s possible.

Always have that element of realism in your mind. If it’s too far-fetched, the reader won’t want to invest in the story.


How you describe the fight sequences makes a difference to the story. Any fight scene involves a range of emotions - adrenaline, fear, determination, panic and so on. Writers tend to forget to include emotions, but fights are not always emotionless. Emotions and sensations are always present. As a writer, you have to place yourself in that situation and imagine those emotions, for example:

Tony tried the door, but it wouldn’t budge. Before he had chance to turn, he caught movement over his shoulder and spun round, his heartbeat loud in his ears, like thunder, and he felt Ash’s hot breath against his neck.

The first punch stung his face and rocked him. The second punch slammed into his cheek and this time his legs buckled.

His ears hissed, and for a second he felt helpless against the tinny sensation, but he held his arms up in a defensive block and kicked out at Ash’s legs, then again, the determination rising above his fear.

Ash stumbled and lost his footing.

Tony raised his legs and slammed his boots into Ash’s thighs with the force of pistons and the big man slumped...

This example gives a variety of things for the reader. It gives a sense of balance of power between the characters, there’s no convoluted dialogue to scupper the pace, there’s exposition, emotions and sensations – fear, determination and that funny ringing in the ears after a hit to the head – and it shows actions and reactions and the pace runs along nicely.

To summarise

  • Use the balance of power
  • Fights should be unique, different.
  • Fights happen for a reason – they develop naturally from the plot.
  • Take into account your character’s physicality.
  • Include emotions and sensations.
  • Use actions and reactions.
Next week we’ll look at putting all these aspects together in your fight scenes, how they should look, and the kinds of things to avoid.

Next Week: Creating Realistic Fight Scenes – Part 3

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Creating Realistic Fight Scenes – Part 1

Not many stories pass without some heavy conflict or a fight scene or two to maintain some pace and action, and bolster the reader’s interest, but writers are not always sure how to write fight scenes, and if they do, the result often doesn’t work so well.

When we think of these conflicts, we think of something that’s fast paced, dynamic, tense and full of action. This also means the characters have to be dynamic, too. But if fight scenes are not well written or don’t engage the reader, they may lose interest or they might skim read to get back to the story.

The thing with fight scenes is that they either work or they don’t, and there are a number of reasons they don’t, such as being so contrived that they’re almost laughable, or sometimes they contain stilted dialogue more akin to something from an old black and white noir movie. Worse still, they’re rammed with clichés. That’s because writers have simply copied what they’ve seen in movies, so it’s best to cut these bad habits before they take hold. 

Things to avoid in your fight scenes:

  • The hero always wins, despite overwhelming odds against him.
  • The hero is never injured despite being punched or kicked or he falls from  height. He always gets up without a scratch.
  • The bad guy always finds the time to explain himself during a tense fight.
  • The hero triumphs over his enemy in the end, with otherwise unseen or unheard combat skills, when in previous fights, this had not been apparent.
  • Contrived/stilted dialogue

The worst one from this list is having a the bad guy always explain things during a tense fight. This happens in movies all the time because writers assume their audience is dumb and they need exposition to tell the reader, so what we see is the bad guy telling the hero what he’s going do to him and how he’s going to do it and for some inexplicable reason, he explains why, for example:

“I’ve waited five long years to kill you. And I won’t make it easy. I’m going to make you suffer...” or, “I knew you would turn up. It was me who blew up Jane’s house, so I knew it would bring you running right into my trap...” 

If it was real life, the attacker isn’t going to stop and give you a speech about how he’s going to knock your teeth out and put you in hospital or why he blew up your house. He’ll just get on with it and kick the hell out of you.

Dialogue  should be fast and dynamic and carry emotion and mood of the scene, so avoid stilted, forced exchanges. And avoid telling the reader the obvious, for example:

Dave ran through the alley and came across a wall. There was nowhere to go.

"Thought you could get away, huh?" John said. "Now you’re trapped and I have you where I want you."

"What are you going to do to me?"

The reader knows that Dave is trapped, so no need for John to say it or enforce it with the statement that he’s got Dave where he wants him. This is cliché. And Dave’s question is also a cliché. 

Forced with the reality of someone attacking you, and no doubt fearful, you don’t ask your attacker what he’s going to do. You run like hell and fight like a cat to get away.

So why do writers fall into this cliché-ridden trap? Because they imagine fight scenes are just like they see in the movies. They’re not. Writers haven’t done enough to inform the reader throughout the story, so when the fight happens, the writer feels as though the reader needs all that backstory and the explanation during the fight, and so the scene ends up being an info dump.

The other problem is that writers are rather biased with their own characters during fight scenes. The main character – unless they’re an ex-Navy seal or ex SAS, are not going to be expert fighters, so don’t have your character defeat every single enemy with one punch or an expertly executed karate high kick. This doesn’t happen in real life.

In truth, real life fights are scrappy, messy affairs, most often in an un-coordinated, arbitrary way. It’s not the boxing ring. Real life fights are anything but controlled or co-ordinated, and are often done in silence - there is no talking, no chit-chat, no blow by blow explanation.

It’s also worth noting that in any fight, your main character will be on high alert – adrenaline will be pumping through their body, which in turn will make them panicky or jumpy and may make them lash out defensively or instinctively. Adrenaline makes us do rash things under extreme pressure or fear.

One important thing to remember is that your protagonist is not a superhero. That means he or she will come off worse from a fight from time to time. Your main character cannot win them all. If they do, your reader will get bored because there will be no tension, drama or sense of danger and it just won’t be believable. For example, what if your main character was a seemingly ordinary housewife looking for her missing dog, yet she can miraculously high kick her way through a vicious gang of dognappers as though she’s been trained by the best army in the world.

It’s not real life. The best fight scenes reflect real life, not Hollywood perceptions.

Most main characters are ordinary people put into extraordinary situations. They are Mr or Miss Average, so unless your protagonist is a trained martial arts expert, a skilled marksman trained in special ops, or has expert munitions knowledge, then most characters will be just ordinary people.

So when they’re confronted with conflict, it’s how they behave and react that makes them and the fight scene realistic. But how do you make fight scenes dynamic yet convincing?

In Part 2 we’ll answer that question of how you can make fights scenes realistic and we’ll look at the factors that can make them work so well rather then being a let down for your reader.

Next week: Creating Realistic Fight Scenes - Part 2.



Saturday, 14 January 2017

How to Construct Plot Twists – Part 2

Last week, we looked at why we there are plot twists and the different styles of plot twist available to writers, so in this second part, we’ll look at how to set them up and how they work.
We’ve already established that plot twists are important to keep the story dynamic and interesting for the reader, and it’s a good way of moving the story forward.
Plot Twists Should Happen for a Reason
There is a very good reason why writers use plot twists, other than to keep the reader turning the page, and that is to advance the main plot. If you use a plot twist, there must be a reason behind it, something that must be related to the main story and/or the characters in some way, otherwise they won’t work.
The wonderful thing about them is that they are like the surface of the ocean – there are all manner of things going on at the surface, but somewhere beneath the waves something is stirring.
Creating effective plot twists takes some practice because the idea is for the reader to be completely unaware of them. They lose their initial effectiveness the moment the reader guesses the plot twist, so it’s important to get them right. Conversely, they should be so revealing that they don’t lose their impact, even on a second or third reading, where the reader knows the story.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn purposely pulls the reader in one direction and then pushes them in another direction through deliberate red herrings and narrator deceit. The Kite Runner has one twist after another, woven through the fabric of the story, leaving subtle hints for the reader for the reveals later in the story.
These plot twists work because the writers don’t give too much away. Some have hinted certain things, but many clues are inlaid between emotion and conflict and of course, these stories demand that the reader invest in the characters, which is achieved thorough characterisation and creating immediacy.
Create the Set up
With an idea of what type of plot twist you want – maybe a revelation or a significant development – you can begin to formulate how it should take shape and where in the story it should happen.
The set up is the way a writer constructs the narrative to reveal the plot twist later in the story, to achieve the best effect.
If, for example, I want to reveal that one of my main characters is, in fact, a double crossing villain who will betray the hero, I would need to establish the character with the reader early in the story so that they find a connection with this character and care what happens to him/her.
I might also want to drop a few clues throughout the narrative, or provide some false clues – all without giving too much away – so that the twist is a surprise but at the same time the reader realises the clues were there all along. 
I’ll then have to choose the right moment to reveal the plot twist for maximum effect. It’s really important to get it right – it has to be directly related to the action taking place, there has to be a reason for it and it must advance the story at the same time.
This is how many writers set up the plot twist. Of course, every writer is different and will have a different approach, but knowing when to reveal the plot twist, why and for what purpose it serves, is the difference between it working or failing.
Create an Impact
Any plot twist you use should create an impact – some are surprising, some are shocking, some are sad etc. Each one creates an emotional response, and that’s why they are effective, especially if you’ve done your work at the beginning of the story to create the kind of characters the reader wants to know all about.
To summarise:
  1. They have to happen for a reason
  2. Don’t give too much away
  3. Feed the reader false information, hint at things that will fool them
  4. Make sure the reader is invested in the characters and the story = maximum impact
  5. Choose the right moment for the plot twist
Constructing plot twists can be complex sometimes, and at other times, they’re relatively easy. It really depends on the story you’re writing. Some will take a while to materialise – even at the editing stage – whereas other times they really do come to us in a lightbulb moment.
Whatever your approach, however you construct them, ensure that the plot twist happens for a reason, is part of the story and is effective.
Next week: Creating realistic fight scenes.