Listened to Episode 20 of Writing Excuses, which was just titled “More Q&A from Conduit,” and there were a couple of points that came up that I wanted to examine. First, the question of whether plot twists are necessary, and if they need to be earth-shattering revelations…

I like the point that was made in response to this question, and one of the differences between “Eastern and Western” modes of storytelling, I think it was Howard who brought up that if you watch anime and other Asian media (having grown up surrounded by predominantly Western media), you’ll encounter stories that don’t follow a familiar structure or pattern.

If you want to break it down farther, I’m of the mind that you’ll find different cultural hemispheres prefer (or simply expect) different kinds of storytelling tropes, there are different formats, different genres, even if the basic concepts are the same. The three-act formula was brought up, and I think that follows as a basic form that “we” (ambiguous concept) are familiar with.

Are plot twists necessary, and do they have to be earth-shattering? I liked the response here, as well. Some of the better tricks, in my opinion, are the subtle ones. I think that if you pull a plot twist and the audience doesn’t notice it, you’ve done your job well. It’s the accumulation of numerous such twists that brings the reader to a completely reasonable, but unexpected conclusion.

Then again, it’s best to know your audience, and the genre you’re writing for. Some genres (or audiences) depend on plot twists more than others. And then, you’ll want to consider your strengths. If you’re the “death by a thousand cuts” type of writer, you probably shouldn’t attempt a “five point exploding heart technique” in your novel. Just sayin’.

Important to note that while there is some overlap with conflict, the two concepts should be recognized as different, if not merely similar. Conflict is important to most types of storytelling. Twists are not. Twists might well be a subtype of conflict, or they might be the author pulling a fast one on the reader. “So, you thought you were reading a time travel story? Ha! Psychological thriller!”

Plot twists might almost be conflict versus reader, as opposed to conflict versus the characters. “What do you think you’re reading, anyway?”