Character and Plot Twists

Ever make plans for your life? Set the path in motion and then something or some one unexpected comes along and rearranges your life?

I went to college for Fine Arts. In the summer of my freshmen year, I left home for the first time and went to an art summer school in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which is on the very tip of Cape Cod.

Most of the young people in the school had been backpacking in Europe. Because of their adventures, and their advice on how to do it, I’d planned on backpacking in Europe that fall. Then I met someone who changed those plans.

I don’t remember his name or what he looks like. I met him in a bar and we went out on a few dates, nothing serious.

He’s memorable because of one question asked me: had I called my mother lately? We’d written, this was pre-email and cell phones, but I hadn’t called in a while. It seemed like a strange question to ask a stranger. It peak my interest, so I called home.

That day, or maybe the day before, I’d received a letter from my college. I asked Mom to open it and read it to me. Seems, I’d received a work grant. I’d work twenty hours a week and I’d get a grant check matching the paycheck. College was cheaper in the south and tuition was affordable. It was enough money to pay tuition and buy books. I lived six miles from college. Commuting wasn’t a problem.

If I’d not called, Mom would not have opened the letter. By the time, she’d written, it would have been too late for me to get back in time for the fall semester and I’d have lost the grant.

I immediately returned home and back to school.

That one chance meeting, and subsequent phone call, changed the whole course of my life. All the people I’ve met, the places I’ve lived, the jobs I’ve had, the person I’ve become, all of it happened because I came home and did not go to Europe.

Some might say the course of my life was put back on the right path. I made the decision to leave my original goals, and one change meeting put me back were I belonged.

Either way, it took one person to rearrange my path in life.

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Ever make plans for your fictional characters? Set their path in motion and then something or some one unexpectedly comes along and rearranges his or her life? You should.

Plots are made up of unexpected twists and turns. It’s what keeps the story interesting. Sometimes the reader knows what’s about to happen, or thinks they do. The author purposely leads the reader in a certain direction. The reader knows just what’s around the bend, but the author throws in a surprise, something the reader wasn’t expecting. You’d think the read would be disappointed, being led astray like that. But no, the reader loves it.

Frank Herbert wrote the Dune series. After his death, his son, Brian Herbert found a bank lock box with ten thousand years of history leading up to Dune. Brian and friend, Kevin J. Anderson, write a series of books about those years. (That was a twist in their lives they never expected.)

It’s been awhile since I’ve read the books and I don’t feel like going back to reread them to get the details, so please bear with me.

As I remember it, the series is about war between planets and political houses. The good guys were always losing. It was a little frustrating watching them getting beat book after book. But finally, it looked like things were about to change.

Someone from the opposing side was against what her kind was doing. She wanted to help the good guys. They had a secret meeting, planned their strategy. Their success of the plan depended on the defector’s participation.

What a relief! After several books, it was time the war turned in the good guys favor. And this was it! The bad guys were finally going to get it.

As the defector’s ship left the planet, someone from the good guy’s side, who didn’t know about the meeting, recognized the ship as belonging to the enemy. He thought the ship had come to spy and was trying to sneak away. He blew the ship up, killing everyone on board.

What a shock. (Not just for the characters, but also for me.) What a let down. Their one ray of hope – dead. This meant evil would continue to be victorious. It was disappointing. It was frustrating.

It was also an interesting plot twist. I kept reading into the next book. I wanted to know what was going to happen. I knew the good guys would win eventually, but how????????? And when?

A good twist in the middle of the book will keep reading hanging and delight them.

***

Sometimes the twist in a character’s life comes in the beginning and sets the stage for the entire plot. The story begins with the everyday life of the character. Then something happens to dramatically change everything.

A new movie is coming out, The Lucky One with Zac Efron from Disney’s High School Musicals.

Zac is a solider on patrol. He’s dressed in full army gear, backpack, gun and helmet. As he cautiously walks through a war zone, something catches his eye. He stops and picks up a photograph no bigger than his palm. He wipes it clean with his thumb. Has a hun moment and places it in his pocket.

He readjusts his gun and turns to resume his walk of the area. Just a few feet in front of him, the ground explodes from a bomb.

It took no more than two seconds for him to stop and pick up the picture, but it saved his life. Whatever his plans were after his tour of duty were erased. Not only had the picture saved his life, but the entire course of his life had been reset.

When he returns to America, his new mission is to find the woman in the picture and thank her for saving his life, and yes, a love story follows.

Readers don’t become upset with an unexpected twist, they become upset when the plot is too predictable. If bored the reader might stop reading, or if they do finish, not read another of the author’s novels.

Strive to be unpredictable. Do something unexpected and see where it leads your characters.

Is there a twist in your life? Or is there a favorite novel twist you’d like to share?

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