The best way to create an effective “big reveal” is to have characters search for information, an object, or a person, so that their search leads to the big reveal — even if the big reveal is NOT the thing they were actually looking for.
Orson Scott Card
Fiction writing is a process of imparting information to a reader. That information might be about events, characters or rules of the story world. This post is about a special subset — information that surprises the reader. And, all readers love a well constructed jolt. Surprises often come as a big revelation of information that the characters searched for or as a twist in the plot the reader did not completely suspect.
A key concept is “not completely suspected” because when the big reveal or plot twist happens the reaction of the reader should be:
- “The hints were there. I should have seen it coming. I loved it.”
- NOT: “I had no clue. That was out of the blue. I feel tricked, deceived and insulted.”
The big reveal or plot twist must be foreshadowed. For instance, if the butler is a murderer his guilt might be foreshadowed by the fact he was always the one to find dead bodies. So, how does the writer manipulate the story to make the reader feel surprised when it turns out the butler is the killer? By using age-old writers’ slights of hand:
- Red Herrings — Introduction of plausible alternatives (which are wrong). The Countess had something red on her fingers — she says it was just lipstick (no, it was blood).
- Dead Ends — Herbert believes the Duke killed Jacob, so Herbert tracks the Duke. The exciting trail leads to a graveyard where the Duke’s father is buried not to where Jacob is buried.
- Misguided Attention — A bloody fingerprint is found in the basement. But, upstairs, the Princess falls in love with the Duke. The fingerprint is forgotten until the end.
- Twist Within a Twist — An expected twist explodes to something entirely different. The likely killer is the butler who wears a mask due to a past injury. When the mask is removed the killer is not the real butler but instead is Egor who was a cousin constantly belittled by the deceased.
A word of warning: don’t foreshadow something and fail make it materialize. This is called Chekhov’s Gun. “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”
The deception by the author must be subtle so it is believable, necessary and plausible. After a plot twist or big reveal: don’t stop writing. Continue the momentum of the story until all the lose ends are resolved.
R. C. Beckett was given a collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazines as a teenager and read hundreds of the stories — he was hooked and started writing fiction in 2013. He loves to write hard science fiction, but can’t help adding a bit of humor. Publications: “Exit Mars” and “Exit Earth” (available on Amazon). “Exit Pluto”, the third in the Exit series, should be published in late 2020. He lives in Golden Colorado and is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Walking his dog is key to his writing since that’s when he imagines plots for his stories. He also volunteers as a webmaster for non-profit companies including SpecFicWriters.