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There's a major piece of information in my story, which I could either make tell right away - or else keep it a secret, and use it as a plot twist later. I'm having a hard time choosing which way to go.

In my particular case, there are two brothers travelling to rescue a prince; the thing is, he's not just a prince - he's their brother, and they're princes too.

I feel like this is something I could build up into a good surprise, a real "A-HA!" moment. On the other hand, it can also get awkward (e.g., if I use one of the brothers as a POV character, I need to show how he thinks of the prince), and I'm just not sure how effective this is in practice.

I can't surprise myself; I can only try to figure out what will surprise the reader. How can I tell if a plot twist I'm writing (or planning) is good and worthwhile?

  • What would be your purpose in keeping it as a surprise? It sounds like a point all your POV charactersknow. What benefit is there to the story from withholding that information? – Standback Mar 13 '16 at 18:09
  • I suppose the purpose would be emphasise that if my two travelers fail, the whole kingdom is going down. Benefit to the story? Well I don't know if it adds much benefit. – Randomations Mar 13 '16 at 20:54
  • I see this a lot, stories that hide an essential piece of information from the reader when all the characters in the story know it. I find it manipulative and I usually stop reading once I realize this is happening. If the characters all know the secret, the reader should know it too. If you want to keep a secret from the reader, then keep it from your main character, too. That way the reader gets the reveal as the character does. – Ken Mohnkern Mar 15 '16 at 12:12
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    @KaiMaxfield wrote a follow-up question, addressing a particular point my rewrite cut out of this question: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/21360/… – Standback Mar 17 '16 at 22:12
  • The follow-up question was really @Standback's work. My name is on there; but I can't take the credit for it. I hope that the answers are of some help. It looks like there are about as many who don't like this sort of a twist as those who do. – Kai Maxfield Mar 18 '16 at 17:17
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If any of the viewpoint characters know the brothers' identities, this won't work as a plot twist. It might work if you use viewpoint characters who are not privy to the information.

In general, a revelation makes good plot twist only if it surprises the current viewpoint character. That is, the reader learns the information at the same moment when the viewpoint character learns it.

If it's a revelation only to the reader, and if the viewpoint character already knows the thing that's being revealed, that's not a plot twist. That's an authorial swindle. That's you (the writer) playing unfair with the reader. Readers get very annoyed at that.

But if a character is shocked and surprised by some revelation, that's characters playing unfair with each other. And that's delightful.

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