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I have set up the plot of a general fiction; with 3 important twists that follow one by one at the end - I figured that it was better than making it a thriller (where there are minor twists that are red herrings and important twists at the same time) but this is pure fiction, plot twists change the way we see the ‘journey’ of the characters - is this a good strategy?

I added that it’s a general fiction so that the answers apply easier, also because that’s what I am working on

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I can think of many of stories (even entire genres) where a gotcha ending is almost mandatory (thrillers, mysteries, horror) but these twist endings come after a series of twists and turns. The thing that bothers me about your question is you say it is general fiction and also there are 3 plot twists that change everything at the end, but no significant twists along the way.

This sounds like a Shaggy Dog Story or worse Deus ex Machina. Since the twists come at the end you are essentially excluding your characters from growing or adapting, so it's not really about them. The "gotcha" is on the reader, and that feels like a punchline or a WTF.

If the gotcha ending is on the protagonist but coming too late for him to do anything about it, the story can feel like a parable designed to give a life instruction, even if it isn't intended to be. The protagonist was wrong, so what flaws lead to his mistake? Was he too nice? Maybe the world is just cruel..., or maybe it's a positive turn and the moral is if you keep praying luck will come (Deus ex Machina again).

Even in all those M. Night Shyamalan films with the (imho) one-note gotcha endings, these stories are constantly signaling that something is wrong with the order of the universe. The ambiguity is the story. The big reveal is the climax to the world's "mystery".

Without any foreshadowing or ambiguity signaling, such as clues that the narrator is unreliable (or naive, or paranoid) there is no otherworld to unveil, no villain to unmask, no conflict with reality. It's just a sudden WTF – your mom's face fell off and she was a robot the whole time, the end.

Since you've generalized your question, maybe your story actually fits a good scenario. There is a genre of short stories (and teleplays) that are the formula of a worldbuild-y setup and a sudden reveal or left turn ending: The Open Window by Saki and more or less every episode of The Twilight Zone.

Most action movies are this kind of story if you take out all the action. A hero goes on a mission but when confronting the villain there is a plot twist reveal about corruption at home or there is a team betrayal or secret uber-villain. This extends the story to a second climax, and of course action stories are not big on character development so they would feel bare without some sort of plot development to drive the last act.

  • Thank you, but it’s neither a short story nor a parable – Edmund Frost Jun 25 '18 at 18:34
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I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with having 3 major twists that come at the end of your novel, unless that's all you've got and the rest is just padded out story to drag the reader kicking and screaming to that point.

You said yourself that "plot twists change the way we see the ‘journey’ of the characters" so if their journey doesn't start until the end, I'd say you have a problem.

I'm reading Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain at the moment. He suggests you organise your story into alternating chapters where your character sets a Goal for themselves, then hits Conflict, and finally Disaster in trying to achieve said Goal. The following chapter is their Reaction to that Disaster, a Dilemma from which they must make a Decision for how to move forward. That Decision then becomes the Goal for the next chapter, alternating back and forth until you reach the climax.

Though it's hard to do in practice, it helps to keep the motor running to alternate chapters in this way.

So, provided you have plenty of Goals, Conflict, Disasters, Dilemmas and Decisions throughout the book that grow your character through their journey, and keep the motor running for the reader, there's no reason why you can't have the novel take giant twists and turns at the very end.

But, you also need to consider how you set up those twists. Will they combine to create an AHA! moment where everything comes together and makes sense for the reader because you've set them up beforehand? If not, your twists are then followed by a deluge of unpacking and explaining, which can make the true end of the novel fall a little flat.

Good luck!

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There's a lot about this question which depends on precise details that I don't have and don't want so speaking generally all that I can say that may be of use to you is that the more twist you leave until the last gasp of the tale the more likely you are to lose you audience. Not in terms of alienating people, although that is a risk, but just in terms of confusing your readers to the point where they cannot understand what happened. Now, purely in my opinion, it doesn't matter if that's a stack of twists or a single complete game changer, if you don't do some work within the piece to set up your readers with an expectation of where the narrative is ultimately headed you're going to lose traction.

  • So I must establish what the reader should expect in the first place? – Edmund Frost Jun 25 '18 at 18:41
  • @EdmundFrost Not necessarily what they should expect but that they should expect something, the reader needs to know something is off that leaves room for a twist. – Ash Jun 25 '18 at 19:14

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