21 Plot Twist Ideas You’ll Never See Coming

Plot twist ideas can help you transform a story from boring to interesting. Discover some books worth exploring.

If you find yourself stuck in the world of writer’s block, one of the best ways to get out of it is to study some short story writing prompts. Many of these have plot twists in them. A good plot twist can get you out of a rut and make your work more interesting and engaging.

A plot twist is part of the story development that the reader does not expect. It is often shocking or transformative, changing the story’s path. For a plot twist to work, it can have some foreshadowing, but it must be unexpected and make sense at the end of the story, fitting the tale’s narrative. Find out more about what is a plot?

Often, the right plot twist idea gives a story power. As we describe in our what is a plot twist guide, the right one can make a mundane story engaging and thrilling to the reader. The best mystery writers regularly employ this device. If you are looking for ways to add a twist to your work, here are some plot twists that have a great impact.

Plot Twist Ideas

1. The Usual Suspects Are Wrong

One of the best plot twists that makes a great story is when you create a mystery, then set up the usual suspects. However, through a turn of events, the reader discovers that an unexpected person is the real culprit, and the usual suspects are all wrong.

Agatha Christie is famous for using this plot twist idea. After many clues that were often red herrings, she sent her detectives only to discover that the real murderer was someone genuinely unexpected at the end of the story.

2. A Revealed Family Connection

One of the most famous lines in the Star Wars franchise comes from the villain Darth Vader. When the masked man says, “No, I am your father,” and reveals that Luke’s arch-enemy is actually his father, it changes the whole idea behind the rivalry.

You could add this story twist to your own storyline, as long as you keep the readers unaware of the connection. This plot twist works best when you don’t offer much foreshadowing of the person’s true identity until the big reveal.

3. An Unknown Fear

Another good plot twist is to have your main character reveal some unknown fear previously unknown to the reader. When the fear gets exposed, it becomes clear how that fear drove the actions up until that point.

This plot twist works well if the fear comes at a pivotal point in the story. For example, the writer could set up a scenario where the main characters need to jump out of an airplane with parachutes on, only to find out that one main character suffers a debilitating fear of heights, making this action nearly impossible. Paula Hawkins successfully played on fear of the unknown in one of the best plot twist books of recent years: Girl on a Train.

4. A Blocked Passage

If your characters are going on a journey, you could throw a plot twist at them that discusses some blocked passage. For instance, they could get to the endpoint of their journey, only to find the final cave they need to pass through has a giant boulder in front of it.

What makes this work is that the story writing builds up to a climax, only to find that there is something impossible that the characters must pass to get through that climax and finish the journey. For this story twist to work, it must be unexpected.

5. An Unexpected Death

Plot Twist Ideas: An Unexpected Death

Having the main character meet a sudden demise with no foreshadowing can take the storyline of your book and send it in a completely different direction. In some genres, like science fiction, death can also become a resurrection which further changes the story.

To make this plot twist emotionally compelling, try to choose a character in which the reader gets emotionally invested. This will make the death more impactful and allow it to redirect the story’s path.

6. A Big Reveal

The movie The Sixth Sense uses a big reveal at the end of the story to create a severe plot twist. In this movie, the therapist works with a young boy who claims he can see dead people. As he helps the child work through this special gift he has, the movie slowly reveals clues about the true nature of the therapist.

It isn’t until the end of the movie that the film expressly says that the therapist himself is, in fact, a ghost. When people re-watch the movie, they can see the signs that were there the entire time, but the first viewing comes as a complete surprise for most people.

7. An Unexpected Friendship

Taking enemies, then working on character development throughout the story, only to show that they need each other somehow, is a great plot twist. In the end, it can create meaningful connections between the characters and even turn a “bad guy” into a “good guy.”

The Toy Story movies are an excellent example of the enemies-to-friend trope. In the beginning, Woody, the sheriff, hates Buzz Lightyear, the space hero. Yet by the end of the first movie, they have become buddies, and in the sequels, they are best friends.

8. The Good Guy is Bad

A twist on the unexpected friendship is the thought of taking your protagonist and revealing, slowly or at once, that he is, in fact, the bad guy. This is a great plot twist idea because the reader spends much of the story rooting for the protagonist, only to find that he was the antagonist the entire time.

This type of plot twist makes for a terrific story. It plays with the reader’s mind and emotions and provides many opportunities for red herrings. However, to make this story satisfying, you need to resolve something the reader can agree with, building some sympathy for the actual protagonist by the end so the reader is not angered.

9. An Unexpected Gift

An unexpected gift can be a significant plot twist in your story. It could be something the protagonist needed the whole time but didn’t know, or it could change the plot’s trajectory by adding new information.

One way to twist this even further is to make the gift seem like a good thing at first, only to turn it into a source of trials. The myth of Midas does this well. Midas’s magical touch seems impressive at first, but eventually, it causes him to lose everything, meaning it was the source of his tragedies.

10. A Natural Disaster

Plot Twist Ideas: A Natural Disaster
Making a natural disaster into a compelling plot twist must significantly impact the storyline

A fire, flood, tornado, or another natural disaster can quickly change the trajectory of a story. To make this into a plot twist, you need to ensure it is unexpected. If there are a lot of spoilers that indicate the disaster is coming, the plot twist won’t work well.

Also, making a natural disaster into a compelling plot twist must significantly impact the storyline. The combination of impact and unexpectedness makes it work well.

11. It Was Me

The “it was me all along” plot twist happens when the main character realizes their worst enemy was themselves. This twist differs from turning the good guy into the bad guy because the protagonist remains the protagonist, but his main enemy is from within.

The Agatha Christie novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd does this well. The narrator, Dr. James Sheppard, spends the book watching Hercule Poirot investigate the murder. In the end, he reveals that he is the murderer.

12. The Hero Makes It Worse

This plot twist takes a cut-and-dried tale and twists it to have a more engaging storyline. For example, the story could move toward a particular climax; everything seems as if it ends well, then suddenly, you realize the hero’s actions made the problem worse.

The story of Ender’s Game is an excellent example of this twist. When the main character successfully finishes his war simulations in his war training, he feels like he has done well. However, the writer reveals that the simulations were real battles against the aliens, and the main character committed genocide.

13. Wait, There’s Another Big Bad

In many video games, the big bad boss is the climax of a level or game. When you beat him, you win. Many books and movies use this same idea, but they can throw a twist by revealing there is another “final boss” after what the reader thought was the main one is defeated.

In the Marvel movie Iron Man 3, Tony Stark discovers the Mandarin he has been fighting was a hired bad guy that was nothing more than a decoy. The movie must continue as he fights Aldrich Killian to succeed.

14. It Was All a Dream

Having a big reveal that shows that the entire story was nothing more than a dream can be an engaging plot twist. After some major disaster or other concern occurs, the reader suddenly discovers that it’s nothing more than a dream.

One of the most classic examples of this plot twist is the movie Inception. This movie leaves the watcher wondering if it was all a dream or not. The still-spinning top at the end hints that the main character could be stuck in an eternal dream and leaves the watcher wondering if the meaning is something else.

15. The Villain Didn’t Die

Nothing is quite as satisfying in a story as seeing an evil villain meet his demise, yet it is an exciting plot twist to discover the villain wasn’t quite as dead as you thought. This twist works exceptionally well if the villain was still doing his dastardly deeds, only without the hero’s knowledge since he thought he was dead.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry discovers that Peter Pettigrew, who he thought was dead, was still alive and masquerading as Ron’s rat. This revelation turns the whole direction of the story.

16. The Setting Is the Problem

In most stories, a character is the main antagonist creating drama for the main characters, but sometimes it’s the setting, not a feeling. This idea can be a plot twist when the people in the story suddenly realize they aren’t where they thought they were. When the reveal occurs, the main characters see that the setting is actually what they were fighting against.

Planet of the Apes is an excellent example of this trope. In the original movie, a team of astronauts thinks they crash-land on a planet with a society of intelligent, talking apes and dumb, non-speaking humans. Yet, the scene reveals they are actually on earth, just many years in the future at the movie’s end.

17. A Gasp-Worthy Surprise

It can be quite the plot twist when the writer inserts something worthy of a giant gasp. It may be a dramatic event, a sudden violent act, or a surprising reveal, but the key is that it draws a startled reaction from the reader.

The Wizard of Oz does this well. As the entire book plays up the power and mystery of the wizard in the land of Oz, the reader expects it to be a powerful creature. Yet, in the end, the writer reveals the powerful wizard is nothing more than a middle-aged man.

18. The Unreliable Narrator

The unreliable narrator is a final plot twist that can make for an exciting ending to a story. With this twist, the narrator seems to be telling an engaging, true story, only for the reader or watcher to discover at the end that the narrator was lying all along, often out of a desire to misrepresent what happened.

Life of Pi is an example of this. Pi Patel seems to be telling the story about survival on the open sea with his tiger as his companion. The reader eventually discovers the real reason behind the story may have been to discuss the plight of zoo animals, not to tell a survival story.

19. The Villain Is a Twin

We’ve heard of stories where the villain turns out to be related to the protagonist (we’re looking at you, Darth Vader,) but what about an evil twin? There is no greater plot twist than finding out that the villain is closer to the protagonist than we think, so how mind-bending it would be to discover that they are twins.

Not only would this be a good plot twist, but it would also open space for more hijinks and adventure in the plot. With twins on opposing sides of good and evil, there is an opportunity for character switching, creating an entertaining and thrilling scenario.

20. The Protagonist is From the Past

Time-bending is a common trope in many novels and movies. However, we don’t often encounter it as a surprise twist. Perhaps your protagonist can be from the past, but readers don’t discover until near the end of the story.

With this twist, there is ample opportunity to work in a great “A-Ha”!” moment. Consider factors like whether your protagonist could visit for a specific purpose. He might be living in the future on a secret mission or even searching for answers.

21. It’s All a Memory

One of the most heart-wrenching twists is the memory trope. As readers follow along with a story, it could be a romance or thriller, and the end scene reveals that readers are living in one of the protagonist’s memories.

This is a good plot twist for a romance novel where the reader could follow along with the beginning of a budding romance and see the beautiful life two partners create. Only to discover at the end that one of them has died, and they are reliving the memories they once shared.

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  • Meet Rachael, the editor at Become a Writer Today. With years of experience in the field, she is passionate about language and dedicated to producing high-quality content that engages and informs readers. When she's not editing or writing, you can find her exploring the great outdoors, finding inspiration for her next project.