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In my book so far, I have tried to limit my plot twists. With the neighbor being the antagonist, and as well as a friend, would it be too much to reveal that the neighbor and his friend that is now evil, are siblings? I'm scared/confused because I don't want to be like that show where its like "I'm actually your dad!" "But I'm your mother! How can that be possible?!" "I'm actually a dog" "But I'm a planet!!" kind of thing. (I'm sorry I have ADHD and this is probably a very weird thing to read.) For some context, the book is a comedy/horror.

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    What is the genre and style of your story? This is extremely important. In some genres plot twists are very uncommon, in others there is one big plot twist everything is built around and prepared for, and in yet other genres (especially those of comedic nature) you can get away with (or even expected to have) an extreme amount of plot-twists, many of them silly and absurd.
    – vsz
    Commented May 31 at 5:40
  • Opinion: If you're asking the question, you already realize you're doing it too much. Commented Jun 4 at 16:23

4 Answers 4

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A plot twist like "I'm your father, Luke" works in Star Wars because the whole story and all its characters are constructed around it. The protagonist, Luke, his whole life and aspirations, his desires and fears and strenghts and weaknesses, are all built on that secret that is so painfully revealed. The plot twist throws him into a deep existential crisis. It is the fundamental idea of the whole story!

If you want to avoid your plot twists to appear random and meaningless to the reader, construct your story and characters first and derive your plot twists from that. And if your story doesn't provide any plot twists, don't force them! Many bestselling stories have no such plot twists at all. You don't need them.

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  • I have been watching some YouTube videos lately in which these plot twists get turned on their head... "Has Obi Wan told you about your father?" "Yes, he told me you are my father" "No Luke, I ... wait, what?" And also the reversal where Luke reveals to Vader that he is his son with Vader saying "No that cannot be" and Luke saying "search your feelings, you know it to be true!"
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 1 at 19:45
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I think that the upper limit is when the twists turn from “keeping the reader guessing” to just “pulling random meaningless stuff out of the void for no reason”. If there’s a real and good plot reason to use a twist, sure, the plot needs it. The trick I think is in knowing when that needs to be the case; I rarely use plot twists and a lot of my beta readers are still excited to keep reading, and when I do use twists it’s usually to keep the plot from going in an undesirable direction rather than introduce a whole new plot line.

If executed correctly, a bunch of consecutive twists can be a “slippery slope” type of thing, where someone’s trying to have something happen but stuff keeps going wrong. But using it to reveal a ton of sometimes-contradictory information can be confusing and also kind of bad for the plot because then the reader will recognize that you’re willing to plot-twist and retcon everything that you want into the plot.

Ultimately, use the twist if you need to, but not more than that. Personally (and it will vary reader to reader), I can stomach a couple twists in quick sequence if it sets up a cool new plot line, but that depends heavily on the consequences of the twist rather than revealing new info for no reason. I don’t want to read about a crazy new development if nothing comes of it.

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TL:DR You can change where the story is going a lot but not so much what it is.

Three, not really, the real answer is that it depends on how you define a plot twist and, to a point, what genre you're working in. You can push the plot in a completely unexpected, but justifiable, direction once or maybe twice without the average reader getting frustrated and/or confused. You can push the plot in the same direction while changing perspectives rather more before your audience literally loses the plot. Tolerances are higher in mysteries, people are expecting the rules to change along the way.

As an example a story that starts out as a murder mystery but turns into a missing persons case is tolerable, when it turns into a discourse on cloning in which the victim is both alive and dead you might start losing people. In the same story the father of the victim is going to go from concerned parent, to grieving parent, to murder suspect, to seemly confirmed killer, to helped his child get out of a bad situation by disappearing, to mad scientist, to killer mad scientist that they can't charge because his child is still alive after he killed their clone, only he didn't kill the clone, he kept the clone. The latter involves far more changes to how the reader looks at the story but it is logical in the context of the larger plot without changing the plot or the underlying story. In fact the changes in how the reader sees the narrative information they have actually drive the story forward. In a slightly simpler plot you can still twist how the audience sees particular characters, and their perspective on the whole story as a result, without actually changing the thrust of the narrative.

Returning to our example (but without the cloning lab) the father can still start as a concerned parent, then play a grieving parent when it appears their child is dead, be suspected of the murder, have everyone convinced that he is the killer, have it be revealed that he really is just a concerned parent (albeit one who is willing and able to take some extreme measures), then reveal that the person who seems to be his safely returned child isn't, and finally that he knows it and they collaborated in the death of his actual child.

Each of these is a story with a lot of twists and turns but the latter example, without the cloning lab, only has one big change in direction that changes the story you're telling; from murder mystery to tale of a father willing to fake their child's death to keep them safe. The point I'm trying to make is that you can change the direction of the story (missing person, murder, organised disappearance, murder) a lot while still telling the same kind of story but repeatedly changing what story you're telling (from mystery, to parental love letter, to morality tale about cloning) is more likely to cause issues.

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As many as you're prepared to properly explore, no more, no less.

You can have terrible twists that actively contradict themselves, and you can have unsatisfying twists where, say, two characters revealed to be siblings, when you look back, don't actually act as if they have a deep shared history with a lifetime of inside jokes and subtle rivalries. You could say this is the bare minimum, but it's hard to do well. If you have too many late-game twists to really flesh out this way, given your own constraints, you have too many.

In terms of plot impact, it's less about the number of twists and more about the pacing and how you set up expectations. A single scene with a mind-numbing number of twists, after which the story direction is clear, is functionally the same impact as a single twist. More spread-out twists give the reader time to get used to the new status quo and decide how much they like it, so you need to be careful that none of the intervening states imply a better story than what you actually pay off in the end. You can point them in the right direction with good foreshadowing.

None of this is really different for multiple twists than for a single twist. As long as you address more contradictions than you raise, and the answers are satisfying, the twist deserves to be there. It's just that the more times you attempt it, the higher chance something will go wrong. Prepare to put the work into thinking all of them all the way through, and don't bite off more than you can chew.

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