- Plot twists must be unique
The requirement of any good plot twist is that it must have a reasonable shot at surprising readers. That’s kind of the point, right? If readers figure it out ahead of time, they’re not going to be surprised. This means you can’t pull the same old gag and expect readers to simply fall for it.
- Plot twists must be executed cleverly
Again, the point is to catch readers off guard. In order to do that, you have to properly set up the twist. You have to predict it just enough to make it all make sense after the payoff. But you can’t tip your hand too soon—or readers will figure it out.
- Plot twists must advance the plot
Plot twists must be about more than fooling readers. There has to be a point to it all. Why is this deception going on under the surface? Why are the characters fooling the readers as well as, presumably, other characters? The elaborate deception in Christopher Priest’s The Prestige, the revelation of truth at the end of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and the celebrated twist in M. Night Shymalan’s The Sixth Sense are all like the dot at the end of an exclamation point. They’re not twists just for the sake of a twist; they’re there to explain the plot itself.
- Plot twists must create story situations that build interests.
Most importantly of all, plot twists have to be able to create situations that readers will be excited to read. If someone figures out your twist ahead of time, that twist still needs to be able to create a compelling story situation that, instead of being disappointed, readers will be super-excited about the possibilities. Instead of saying, “Darn, I figured it out,” you want them to say, “Oh, please let that be what it is!” Who wasn’t excited by the possibilities when Darth Vader turned out to be Luke’s father? The results of the twist were even better than the twist itself.
- Plot twists must not take away from re-readability
If the focus is so intensely on the twist that your story loses power once readers figure out what’s going on, then you know something is wrong. The sign of a good story is that readers will love it just as much (if not more) when they enter it for a second time knowing how everything pans out.