What Is a Plot Twist? Definition & 15+ Examples

Have you ever been utterly captivated by a story, following the narrative thread like a moth to a flame, only to be abruptly catapulted in an entirely unexpected direction?

Welcome to the mesmerizing world of plot twists! This dramatic narrative device knows how to play with our expectations, shattering them to pieces and reshaping them in surprising and often delightful ways.

So, buckle up because we’re about to dive into the labyrinth of this powerful storytelling tool, exploring its intricacies and impact on our reading experiences.

Defining Plot Twist

A plot twist is an unexpected turn of events or revelation in a story that significantly alters the direction of the narrative or the character’s situation. It is often used as a narrative device to engage the reader, surprise them, or challenge their assumptions.

A well-executed plot twist can create moments of shock or surprise, and may lead the reader to reinterpret previously established aspects of the story. It frequently serves to deepen the plot, enhance character development or reveal hidden motivations, adding depth and complexity to the overall story.

To be effective, a plot twist must be both surprising and plausible within the context of the story. Achieving this balance can be challenging, but when done well, it can make a significant impact on a reader’s perception and enjoyment of the narrative.

Evolution of Plot Twist

The concept of a plot twist has been a staple in storytelling since ancient times. In early Greek tragedies, playwrights such as Sophocles and Euripides utilized unexpected revelations to shock their audiences and deepen the drama’s emotional impact. These writers understood the power of a well-crafted surprise, even in stories that were familiar to their audiences.

As storytelling evolved, so did the plot twist. The rise of the novel in the 18th century brought with it new opportunities for authors to experiment with narrative structure and weaving in surprising turns of events. Gothic literature, for example, capitalized on elements of horror and suspense, relying on plot twists to intensify reader engagement. Writers like Ann Radcliffe and the Brontë sisters skillfully employed these narrative devices to subvert the audience’s expectations.

The 19th and 20th centuries marked a significant leap in the development of plot twists. Authors like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain utilized the serialized format, releasing their stories chapter by chapter in newspapers and magazines. This method allowed them to incorporate sudden changes in direction more effectively, as readers eagerly awaited the next thrilling installment.

Furthermore, mystery writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie elevated the plot twist within their works, weaving unexpected solutions to perplexing puzzles and keeping readers guessing until the very end.

The advent of film in the 20th century brought even more possibilities for utilizing plot twists. Directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and M. Night Shyamalan are known for their ingenious twists that have left audiences stunned. As screenwriters continue to push the boundaries of storytelling, the potential for crafting powerful and memorable plot twists only grows.

Throughout the evolution of storytelling, plot twists have remained a vital tool for engaging and surprising audiences. As technology and artistic mediums continue to progress, the future of the plot twist is full of potential and promise, ensuring that audiences will continue to be captivated by the unexpected.

Functions of Plot Twist

Plot Twist Surprises the Audience

A plot twist serves various functions within a story, enhancing the overall narrative and keeping readers engaged. One of the primary functions of a plot twist is to surprise the audience. By introducing an unexpected turn of events, the writer captures the reader’s attention and encourages them to continue reading.

Plot Twist Deepens the Complexity of The Story

This can be achieved by revealing new information about the characters, their relationships, or the world they inhabit. A well-crafted plot twist can add layers to the story, making it more interesting and providing opportunities for character development.

Plot Twists Can Reinforce Themes or Messages Within the Story

When a twist relates to the underlying themes of a narrative, it can help the reader to better understand and appreciate the story’s message. Additionally, plot twists that involve moral dilemmas or ethical questions contribute to the reader’s engagement with the work on a deeper level.

Plot Twist Can Alter the Trajectory of The Story

A plot twist can also alter the trajectory of the story by changing the goals, motivations, or circumstances of the characters. This can lead to new plotlines and subplots, further enriching the narrative and keeping the reader invested in the story.

Characteristics of Plot Twist

A plot twist is an unexpected turn of events in a narrative, meant to surprise the reader or audience. The primary purpose of a plot twist is to create tension and suspense, keeping the reader engaged and eager to learn what happens next.


A significant characteristic of a plot twist is its unpredictability. The nature of a plot twist requires it to be surprising yet plausible enough for the reader to accept. The best plot twists are those that may not be initially apparent, but upon reflection, the clues were there all along.


Foreshadowing is another essential feature of plot twists. Authors tend to reveal hints or clues early in the narrative, laying the groundwork for the twist. This technique allows the reader to piece together the information as they progress through the story, making the twist more satisfying when it ultimately occurs.


The impact of a plot twist often hinges on its timing within the story. Introducing a twist too early may weaken its effect, while revealing it too late risks diminishing its relevance. Ideally, a plot twist should occur when it is least expected, allowing the new information to dramatically reshape the narrative.


It is crucial that a plot twist be relevant to the overall story arc, either advancing the plot or deepening character development. A twist serves not only as a surprising revelation but also as a driving force for the narrative, leading to new plot developments or altering the stakes of the story.

When executed well, plot twists can create memorable moments and add complexity to a story, leaving readers and audiences with a lasting impression.

Elements of a Successful Plot Twist

Foreshadowing and Clues

In crafting a successful plot twist, subtle hints and clues should be woven throughout the narrative. Foreshadowing provides readers with an opportunity to establish a sense of anticipation and curiosity.

To achieve this, an author might use:

  • Symbolism or recurring imagery
  • Small, seemingly insignificant details or events
  • Conversations among characters that suggest hidden motives


A compelling plot twist needs to be both surprising and believable.

To maintain believability, the twist should:

  • Remain consistent with established story elements.
  • Avoid contradicting a character’s motivations or previous actions.
  • Be rooted in a logical progression of events.

Tension and Conflict

The essence of a plot twist is the heightened tension and conflict it creates.

This can be achieved by introducing:

  • Unexpected obstacles or setbacks for characters.
  • Revelations that alter the course of the story.
  • A shift in alliances or relationships among characters.

Audience Engagement

A successful plot twist should engage the audience emotionally and intellectually.

Building audience engagement can be accomplished through:

  • Inviting readers to make predictions, only to subvert them.
  • Challenging readers’ assumptions about the story’s outcome.
  • Fostering a sense of empathy or connection with the characters.

Character Development

A well-executed plot twist can reveal new layers of depth to a character or deepen the complexity of the narrative.

Considerations for character development include:

  • How the twist affects the character’s growth or arc.
  • The potential impact on relationships or alliances within the story.
  • Ensuring the twist aligns with established character traits and motivations.

Types of Plot Twist


A plot twist involving a reveal occurs when a piece of information that was previously hidden comes to light, completely changing the story’s dynamics. This may involve a character’s secret identity or hidden intentions. The reveal can result in the reader reevaluating their perception of the story and characters.

Role Reversal

A role reversal plot twist involves the exchange of roles between characters or a change in power dynamics. The hero may turn out to be the villain, or the supposed antagonist may take on the role of a protagonist. This unexpected shift can create dramatic conflict and generate new storylines.

Unexpected Outcome

In an unexpected outcome twist, the story concludes in a manner that the reader was not anticipating. This can involve the failure of a character’s plan, the triumph of the villain, or a situation where the hero’s actions lead to unintended consequences. This type of plot twist may leave the reader questioning their expectations and assumptions.

Non-Linear Timeline

Non-linear timeline plot twists utilize unconventional storytelling structures, such as flashbacks, time jumps, or parallel narrative strands, to gradually reveal key information to the reader. By presenting events out of chronological order, these twists create suspense and generate speculation about the story’s true outcome.

Chekhov’s Gunman

The Chekhov’s gunman twist refers to an element or character introduced early in the story that later plays a significant role in the plot’s development. This twist follows the principle that every element in a narrative should serve a purpose, ultimately leading to a surprising yet satisfying resolution.

Unreliable Narrator

An unreliable narrator twist occurs when the storyteller’s truthfulness or ability to accurately recount events is called into question. This can create a sense of distrust and uncertainty in the reader, who must then evaluate the veracity of the narrative and piece together the true story.

Perception Twist

A perception twist involves the manipulation of the reader’s or character’s expectations about a situation. This may result from a change in perspective, where the reader suddenly sees the events from a different point of view, or from a reexamination of previously accepted facts. This twist can challenge the reader’s understanding of the story’s world and themes.

Poetic Justice

A poetic justice twist sees a character receive their comeuppance in a manner fitting to their actions, often in a surprisingly ironic or satisfying way. This twist serves to underline the story’s theme or moral message while also delivering a sense of closure and balance.

Examples of Plot Twists in Literature


"Fight Club" by Chuck Palahniuk 

In this novel, the protagonist suffers from insomnia and creates an underground fight club as a form of male bonding. The major plot twist occurs when the reader discovers that the narrator and his friend, Tyler Durden, are actually the same person, suffering from dissociative identity disorder.
"Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn 

This psychological thriller revolves around the disappearance of Amy Dunne and the investigation that follows. The plot twist reveals that Amy fabricated her disappearance and framed her husband, Nick, for murder to punish him for his infidelity.
"The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" by Agatha Christie This classic detective story features Hercule Poirot, who is called upon to solve a murder. The unexpected plot twist involves the revelation that the narrator, Dr. James Sheppard, is the murderer.
"Shutter Island" by Dennis Lehane 

Set on an isolated island, this psychological thriller follows U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels as he investigates the disappearance of a mental patient. The plot twist uncovers that Teddy is actually a patient at the institution, and the investigation was just a fabrication to help him confront his guilt over his wife's death.
"The Sixth Sense" by M. Night Shyamalan & Peter Lerangis 

This novel, adapted from the film, follows a child psychologist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, as he tries to help a young boy who can see and talk to dead people. The dramatic plot twist reveals that Dr. Crowe himself is one of the dead the boy is seeing.

Short Story

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson 

This short story portrays a small town's annual tradition of holding a lottery to determine who will be sacrificed to ensure a good harvest. The surprising plot twist unveils that the lottery winner is stoned to death by the other townspeople.
"The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant 

This story follows Mathilde, a woman who borrows a seemingly expensive necklace for a high-society event, only to lose it. The plot twist occurs when Mathilde learns, after years of hard work and sacrifices to repay the debt, that the necklace was a cheap imitation.
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce 

This story tells of a man's imminent execution by hanging during the Civil War. The plot twist reveals that the man's apparent escape was merely a vivid hallucination right before his death.
"The Open Window" by Saki 

The story revolves around a man visiting a woman's home, where she tells a chilling tale of her family's tragic deaths. The plot twist uncovers that the woman made up the entire story as a prank, and her family members are all actually alive.
"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry 

This story is about a couple who make sacrifices to buy each other perfect Christmas gifts. The plot twist occurs when they discover that their sacrifices rendered their gifts useless.


"Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles 

In this Greek tragedy, Oedipus is plagued by a prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother. The shocking plot twist discloses that he unintentionally fulfilled this prophecy.
"Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare 

The play chronicles the story of two young lovers from feuding families. The plot twist occurs when their plan to escape their families' hatred fails tragically, resulting in both characters' deaths.
"Deathtrap" by Ira Levin 

This dark comedy-thriller revolves around two playwrights who devise the perfect murder plot. The play is filled with twists, as characters unexpectedly double-cross and betray one another.
"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" by Christopher Bond 

This musical thriller details the story of a vengeful barber. The plot twist reveals that the woman Sweeney Todd unknowingly killed was actually his wife, whom he believed to be dead.
"The Mousetrap" by Agatha Christie 

This murder mystery play features a group of characters trapped in a mansion amidst a snowstorm, trying to solve a murder committed within their ranks. The plot twist uncovers that the murderer is one of the guests whom nobody suspected.

Examples of Plot Twists in Pop Culture


"The Sixth Sense" by M. Night Shyamalan

In this psychological thriller, the plot twist reveals that the main character, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, has been a ghost throughout the entire film, unbeknownst to him and the audience.
"Inception" by Christopher Nolan

In this high-concept sci-fi thriller, Dom Cobb and his team are skilled extractors who invade people's dreams to steal valuable information. The plot takes a major turn when we learn their latest job is not extraction, but inception: planting an idea into the target's subconscious. However, the most debated twist comes at the very end of the film. 

Throughout the story, Cobb uses a spinning top to differentiate reality from dreams. In the final scene, he spins the top and walks away before we see if it falls, leaving the audience in a state of uncertainty about whether the entire plot took place in reality or a dream.
"The Usual Suspects" by Bryan Singer

The story unravels the iconic twist that the seemingly meek and harmless "Verbal" Kint has masterminded the entire plot as the legendary criminal, Keyser Söze, thus fooling both the authorities and the audience.
"The Prestige" by Christopher Nolan

The climactic twist occurs when it is revealed that magician Borden has an identical twin who has assisted him in his tricks, and rival magician Angier has been using a machine that creates clones of himself in his pursuit of the perfect illusion.
"Memento" by Christopher Nolan

This film tells the story of Leonard, a man suffering from anterograde amnesia who can't form new memories. He's on a mission to find the person who attacked him and killed his wife. The story is told in two sequences: one in black and white that proceeds chronologically, and one in color that goes in reverse. 

The plot twist comes when these sequences meet, revealing that Leonard's friend Teddy is actually using him to kill other people, and that Leonard himself unknowingly killed his own wife by giving her an overdose of insulin. This twist forces a reconsideration of the entire narrative we've been following.

Television Show

"Game of Thrones" by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

The notorious "Red Wedding" episode featured a shocking plot twist in which several key characters were brutally killed off during a seemingly joyous event, completely altering the course of the story.
"Westworld" by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy

The show reveals that the character William and the Man in Black are the same person, but presented in different timelines, providing a surprising twist that expands the complexity of the narrative.
"Dexter" by James Manos Jr.

In season 4's twist, Dexter's wife, Rita, is revealed to have been murdered by the Trinity Killer after he had been led to believe that he had successfully taken care of the threat.
"Breaking Bad" by Vince Gilligan

The plot twist in the series finale reveals that Walter White secretly poisoned young Brock with ricin in order to manipulate Jesse Pinkman, demonstrating the extent of Walter's transformation into a ruthless criminal.
"Lost" by J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse

The major plot twist at the end of season 3 unveils that the events depicted in the "flash-forwards" are actually happening after the characters have left the island, turning the show's established narrative structure on its head.

Techniques for Crafting a Plot Twist

Misdirection and Red Herrings

In creating a plot twist, one key technique is the use of misdirection and red herrings. These are false clues that lead readers or viewers in the wrong direction, making them believe something that isn’t true. This helps to build suspense and curiosity as readers try to piece together the story.

Misdirection can be achieved through dialogue or narrative, while red herrings can be objects, characters, or events that distract from the actual plot.

Flashbacks and Nonlinear Narrative

Another way to craft a plot twist is by employing flashbacks and a nonlinear narrative structure. This allows writers to reveal important information to the reader gradually, often in a deliberately confusing way. Flashbacks can provide background information on characters and events, adding depth and context to the story.

Meanwhile, a nonlinear narrative jumps between different points in time, making it harder for the reader to put all the pieces together until the twist is revealed.

Reversals and Double Twists

Reversals and double twists provide extra layers of surprise in a plot twist. A reversal occurs when a character or situation undergoes a significant change, causing the reader’s perception of events to shift suddenly. An example might be a seemingly innocent character revealed to be the mastermind behind a crime.

Double twists, on the other hand, happen when one twist is followed by another, turning the story on its head once again. This keeps readers on their toes and helps to create an even greater sense of unpredictability.

Surprise Revelations

Finally, surprise revelations are a crucial element in crafting a plot twist. These can come in the form of astonishing twists that readers never saw coming or subtle hints that were overlooked until the reveal. Surprise revelations often involve uncovering hidden relationships between characters, important plot details, or character motivations.

They not only shock the reader but also make them re-evaluate everything they thought they knew about the story.

Impact of Plot Twist on Literature

A plot twist greatly impacts literature as it introduces an element of surprise and unpredictability. It alters the course of the story, often forcing readers to reassess their expectations and understanding of the plot. This device allows authors to create suspense and engage their audience, leading to a deeper emotional investment in the characters and plot.

Plot Twists Can Reshape the Entire Meaning of A Story

In some instances, plot twists can reshape the entire meaning of a story. For example, in Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” the unexpected revelation of the narrator being the killer changes the reader’s perception of the entire story. This clever manipulation of narrative perspective showcases how plot twists can significantly impact the structure and interpretation of literary works.

Plot Twists Contribute to The Development of A Story’s Theme

They can shed new light on an issue or reveal a character’s true nature. An excellent example of this is found in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” where the gradual but shocking betrayal of the animals by the pigs highlights the hypocrisy and corruption inherent within power structures.

Plot Twists Serve as A Reminder of The Complexity of Human Experiences

Another aspect to consider is that plot twists often serve as a reminder of the complexity of human experiences. By introducing uncertainties and twists to the storyline, the authors acknowledge the multifaceted nature of reality. This enhances the reader’s ability to identify with the characters, making them feel more authentic and relatable.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should a plot twist be introduced?

While there is no definitive answer, it is important to find a balance between developing the story and keeping your reader engaged. Too early, and the twist may not have a significant impact; too late, and it may feel rushed or forced.

Can a story have multiple plot twists?

Yes, a story can have more than one plot twist, but it is critical to ensure the twists are logically connected and do not undermine each other.

Does every story need a plot twist?

No, while plot twists can add excitement and intrigue to a story, they are not necessary for every type of narrative. The decision to include a plot twist should be determined by the overall goals and structure of the story.


In the exhilarating journey of storytelling, the plot twist stands as a compelling testament to our love for the unexpected. It’s the jolt that electrifies a narrative, the curveball that keeps us on our toes, and the masterstroke that can transform a good story into a memorable one.

Whether it’s a shocking reveal, a role reversal, or a perception shift, the magic of a plot twist lies in its ability to redefine our understanding of the narrative and characters and to keep us coming back for more. As we close the book on this post, remember, in the world of storytelling, expect the unexpected!

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Aerielle Ezra is an enthusiastic student of architecture who has a wide range of interests, including psychology, lifestyle, and relationships. Apart from her studies, she also likes to engage in athletic activities, particularly volleyball. When she is not playing, she spends her free time watching her preferred sitcoms or reading her favorite books, which include fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.