I've been having some trouble with the ending of my current story, and I've decided that the best way to deal with those issues is to include a major twist. Due to the nature of this twist, I'm not sure if the reader will like it, or just be disappointed. Here's the scenario:

The basic plot of the story is that the main character is a prisoner on a planet ruled by intelligent robots with advanced technology. It's not as unoriginal as it sounds. The character gets unintentionally teleported to a different planet, in a different time. It is important to note that this story is a fan fiction based on the story of a game, and this event is part of that story, and therefore thoroughly expected. This is not the twist.

Following the general story of the game, the character goes through several battles and missions on this new planet. He meets characters who change him, and the way he sees things. He realizes some things about himself.

While on this new planet, the character has one goal: to get back to his home, and the woman he loves. However, he eventually learns that the people on the new planet need his help, and that leaving them to achieve his goal would be selfish. He has decided that that's something he cannot do.

The trouble is that there are now two stories on two separate planets. For story reasons, they cannot cross over. I cannot, for example, bring the woman the main character loves to the new planet, or vice versa. I can end the conflicts on the new planet in a climax, and then send the character back, but the climax will have already happened, leaving everything back on the home planet as feeling like extra (there is a separate climax there as well, but it consists mainly of dialogue).

I have decided that the best way to deal with these problems is with a twist: just before the main character would have the final battle with the antagonist of the new world, everything goes black. He wakes up. It turns out the whole thing was just a matrix-like simulated test the advanced robots were running on him.

This certainly fixes the problems. The unresolved conflicts of the new world don't matter because they were never real. There is only one climax, on the home world.

There's only one question: will the reader think this is a great twist, or just be disappointed that all they were reading before that actually never happened?

The character has learned things. He has changed due to his experiences. But those experiences never actually happened. The people he met never existed. Perhaps most importantly, the climax which everything on the new world was building up to never happened. It is true that the protagonist's main goal of getting back home never changed, and that he spent the majority of his time on the new world trying to get back. It was only at the end that he became invested in the war on the new world, and decided he had to stay. Nonetheless, the reader was expecting a fight to the death on the new world. That fight never came.

So that's my question: is there a way I can make sure a major twist isn't disappointing? Is there perhaps a list of do's and don't's? Of things to watch out for maybe?

Note: This cannot be answered by this answer. That answer explains what a twist really is and how it really works. This question is dealing with whether or not a twist of the kind I have outlined above will disappoint the reader. The two questions are similar only in the respect that they are both about twists. In all other respects, they are completely different questions. You could say the linked questions deals with how to create twists, while this question deals with how to prevent the reader from feeling like he's been lied to when the twist is revealed.

Further Note: After due consideration, I have decided that the answer here is in fact the best answer. It doesn't directly answer this question, but one can infer from it that to make a twist satisfying, it must twist back to the most emotionally satisfying storyline, and the twist itself must be more emotionally satisfying than what would have happened without the twist.

  • Can you explain why the answer you accepted for writing.stackexchange.com/questions/25921/… does not answer this question (the twist must put the story back on course, not throw it off course)? If I were to answer this question I would say exactly what I said there.
    – user16226
    Mar 10, 2018 at 18:52
  • @MarkBaker Done. Mar 10, 2018 at 18:58
  • 1
    Illogical endings that are emotionally satisfying are fine (not to mention common). Logical endings that are emotionally dissatisfying are not fine and no appeal to logic can make them so. The fact that you are trying to get yourself out of the corner you painted yourself into suggest that any plot twist devised for the purpose is not going to be emotionally satisfying. But there is no way to tell for sure without reading the story. The answer is still that the twist must make the ending more satisfying, not less.
    – user16226
    Mar 10, 2018 at 19:32
  • 2
    I don't think you get that luxury. A major plot twist is a high point. If it is disappointing, that is going to be very hard to recover from. The reader may well not get to the end and I doubt that it is possible to really bring the story to a satisfying conclusion after a letdown like that. If a plot twist is not what you were planning and preparing for from the very beginning, the chances of making is satisfying seem remote.
    – user16226
    Mar 10, 2018 at 20:04
  • 2
    Do you need to resolve both plots? Leaving the question of whether the hero can return open, or even sacrificing the option to return can be more emotionally interesting than the happily ever after ending.
    – JohnLBevan
    Mar 11, 2018 at 7:48

5 Answers 5


I would find this twist unsatisfying, a deus ex machina (coming out of nowhere) that invalidated the whole story (it was all just a dream...).

I also think you wrote yourself into a corner!

I suspect the way to fix it is to make your female protagonist better at something than your male protagonist (a better engineer, for example) so he must go back to her, or get her to come to the new world. You say he is capable of returning.

A twist would be that when the reader fully expects him to win, he loses, and he realizes the ONLY way he can win this battle is with the help of the woman he loves, he believes she can figure out how to do again what was originally done by accident, so he returns to her, she figures that out and also provides him the knowledge and weapons he needs, so he goes back to the planet armed and easily defeats the villain. Then you have a few pages of him coming home to her, to live happily ever after.


Surprising, yet Inevitable

The best twists are those which feel completely unanticipated when they are first revealed, but make total sense in hindsight. The story should make more sense after the twist than it did before the twist. This is mainly achieved via foreshadowing, by leaving subtle discrepancies which readers can pick up on but can't use to identify what is causing them.

The twist you've suggested is unlikely to be received well, no matter the foreshadowing

"It was all just a dream" and its variants are some of the oldest cliches in poor plot resolution. Which is not to say that it cannot be done well. But it's a cliche because it is very easy to do poorly, and very difficult to do well. Beyond that, because it's so commonly done poorly, readers will be predisposed to reject the twist. You would have to go above and beyond "good" and into "outstanding" to get a positive response.

Additionally, Matrix-style virtual realities are extremely well-explored territory. You would have to be doing something particularly interesting with the concept in order to keep readers interested.

The climax of the story is more than just a part of the plot - it's a part of the story

The purpose of a climax is not the mechanical resolution of the conflict - it's the emotional culmination of the reader's engagement with the story. Sure, you can resolve the plot by declaring that section to be imaginary, but that does nothing to resolve the anticipation of the readers who have been waiting for this climax for most of the book. It leaves them frustrated and annoyed, with no emotional payoff.

Suggestion: Have the other characters resolve the plot

Your solution to the dual climax problem was to cut out one of the climaxes by returning the hero early and erasing that plotline. Return him early, but don't erase that plotline. Now all the secondary characters of that storyline have lost their most valued asset, but still have a problem to solve. That simply raises the stakes and makes their eventual victory more dramatic. Bonus points if events during the climax reveal that the hero's plan was anticipated, and only because they were forced to improvise do they actually manage to win.

(If the readers aren't invested enough in the secondary characters to watch them handle the climax without the main character there, you have different problems with the story)

This allows you to run both climaxes concurrently (or at least close together - putting your climaxes too close together can be just as bad as keeping them too far apart)

I second Amadeus's suggestion of increasing the agency of the female lead, so that she brings him home early and inadvertently sparks the leadership crisis on the second world. (And if your protagonist's love interest doesn't have any plot relevance other than "goal for the hero", you again have a different problem)


Where the twist is that the reader has been thinking in terms of two plots and finds there is only one, the trick is how the second plot is incorporated in the first. I disagree that the unresolved conflicts of the second world don't matter - if anything it makes them more significant.

Your readers are going to be wondering why the robots put the protagonist into the simulation, what they were trying to achieve, and whether they achieved it. If there were aspects of the protagonist's experiences (including unresolved issues) in the new world that affect how he deals with the original world, the form these take will be extremely relevant to the first plot - especially if the plans of the robots are going to be thwarted because of something the protagonist learned inside the simulation.

In this case, the twist isn't going to be "it was all a dream", but "those robots didn't see that one coming". This can work well even for the readers who may have been disappointed by the initial twist - once the outcome of the story makes sense to them, they'll be able to see the protagonist (and, by extension, themselves) as being smarter than the robots.


Your scenario comes across as less a plot twist and more of a shaggy dog story.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ShaggyDogStory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaggy_dog_story

The "punchline" of a shaggy dog story is that there is no punchline, and it is usually lampshaded for comedy at the expense of the protagonist, and by extension the reader who has followed the same journey and also arrived with no payoff. The reader and protagonist usually discover the story is going nowhere at the same time, which creates character empathy as the reader identifies directly with the protagonist's frustration and surprise.

Your question describes many plot points but almost no character development, and most writers would probably agree that a story ends when the character arc is complete, not when the plot ends. There are stories that are all plot and no character arc, but the shaggy dog ending derails your plot-oriented climax, especially as you describe it "just before the main character would have the final battle with the antagonist of the new world, everything goes black."

A plot twist would be that the girlfriend is the one who is running the test simulation, and she discovers what she feared: her boyfriend is more tempted by adventure than in settling down to be with her. She ends the simulation because she learned what she needed to know. This is a twist because it takes an element of the story that has been there all along and turns everything the protagonist knows about it upside-down. Re-visiting the story, there might be dozens of moments that now read differently: his calls to action might now be seen as pitfall/distractions deliberately arranged to "test" how dedicated he is to his relationship. What was at first seen as self-sacrifice, is revealed to be self-sabotage. We learn the protagonist is maybe only heroic in his own mind, or the girlfriend is not his self-sacrificing ideal, either way something has profoundly changed. It is not just a random bump in the road, it is the road. This has to matter in your story or it won't matter to anyone reading it.

A plot twist doesn't just erase previous action, it changes the meaning of things that came before. In theory the reader could now re-read the story and certain scenes would have a different meaning, or imply something completely different than was previously assumed. Fight Club and The Sixth Sense are (extreme) examples of a plot twist that transforms the entire narrative – these are not the same stories the second time.

Having the protagonist wake up from a dream is not a plot twist for an action-adventure story. It is the equivalent of dragging a shaggy dog all the way to the climax only to have a door slammed in his face. Unlike a plot twist, knowing the shaggy dog ending doesn't transform the earlier plot elements, it nullifies them. The reader does not gain anything new by re-examining the plot elements before and after. Worst case scenario, the previous action is now seen as pointless.


I'm not going to answer the question you've asked but instead address an implicit assumption in your question that you may have assessed incorrectly.

You state that because you have two separate goals for your protagonist to resolve that cannot be resolved at the same time, when he returns to the second, "the climax will have already happened, leaving everything back on the home planet as feeling like extra."

Yet, this is a structure that can work. A couple of examples include Lord of the Rings (the novel -- the films were restructured and removed this aspect of the structure) and the TV series Babylon 5 -- in both, the protagonists first face a large, worlds-in-balance threat, then return to their home to face a smaller but more personal threat. In both cases this works because they apply the lessons they learned in the first test while dealing with the second. When they left home, they wouldn't have been able to solve the problem they return to. When they return, they're changed by their experiences and are able to solve the problem.

If you can rework your second resolution so that it works in these terms, it could be a satisfying conclusion even though the stakes are smaller. It certainly seems that the key ingredient -- that even though the stakes are smaller they're more personal -- is there, which is a good start.

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